IN THE HEADLINES
McCain, Obama square off as race issue hits presidential campaign ... McCain defends use of Spears, Hilton in campaign ad while professing respect for Obama ... Obama seizes on record oil profit to criticize McCain over tax breaks for big oil companies ... Poll: Obama leads McCain in Pennsylvania; McCain tied with Obama in Ohio, Florida ... Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark gets online push for Obama running mate
Race issue hits Obama-McCain campaign
WASHINGTON (AP) _ John McCain accused Barack Obama of playing politics with race on Thursday, raising the explosive issue after the first black candidate with a serious chance of winning the White House claimed Republicans will try to scare voters by saying he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."
Until now, the subject of race has been almost taboo in the campaign, at least in public, with both sides fearing its destructive force.
"I'm disappointed that Sen. Obama would say the things he's saying," McCain told reporters in Racine, Wis. The Arizona senator said he agreed with campaign manager Rick Davis' earlier statement that "Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It's divisive, negative, shameful and wrong." The aide was suggesting McCain had been wrongfully accused.
In turn, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said, "We weren't suggesting in any way he's using race as an issue" but that McCain "is using the same, old low-road politics that voters are very unhappy about to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign."
A day earlier and in response to a hard-hitting McCain commercial, Obama argued that President Bush and McCain have little to offer voters so Republicans will resort to a strategy of fear to keep the White House.
"What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me," Obama said. "You know, he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name, you know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."
He didn't explain the comment.
McCain expresses pride in campaign ad about Obama
RACINE, Wis. (AP) _ Republican John McCain expressed pride Thursday in a new campaign ad that compares Barack Obama to a pair of Hollywood celebrities, but defended his Democratic opponent after a voter said Obama "terrifies me."
The ad intersperses images of Obama's appearance before cheering fans in Berlin last week with clips of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. It underscores McCain's oft-stated criticism that Obama is more a media phenomenon than someone prepared to assume the presidency, but also led some Republican supporters of McCain to complain the ad was childish.
"What we are talking about here is substance and not style," McCain said, making his first comments about the ad after a voter questioned him about it. "Campaigns are tough, but I'm proud of the campaign we have run, I'm proud of the issues we have tried to address with the American people ... All I can say is we are proud of that commercial."
In response, Obama campaign manager David Plouffe told reporters during a conference call: "We can most assuredly tell you that voters around the country do not think there's anything substantive about this latest ad, do not think it's something that John McCain should be proud of."
McCain later praised his rival during the Wisconsin town-hall meeting when an 18-year-old woman said Obama "terrifies me."
"I respect and admire Sen. Obama. We just have stark differences," McCain replied.
Obama slams McCain over oil company tax breaks
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (AP) _ Democrat Barack Obama seized on a record oil company profit to argue that rival John McCain offers only tax breaks for Big Oil and "short-term gimmicks" to consumers struggling with soaring gasoline prices.
The Illinois senator incorporated news of Exxon Mobil's nearly $12 billion quarterly profit into his remarks at a town hall meeting here.
"While Big Oil is making record profits, you are paying record prices at the pump and our economy is leaving working people behind," Obama said.
McCain's response, Obama said, is to propose a gas tax "holiday" and a corporate tax plan that would give "$4 billion each year to the oil companies, including $1.2 billion for Exxon Mobil alone."
He said McCain is part of a Washington establishment that "has failed the American people on energy and that failure has led directly to our current crisis."
In response, the McCain campaign labeled Obama's criticism a "hypocritical political attack," and cited his vote in 2005 for an energy bill backed by President Bush. McCain opposed the legislation.
The two rivals have clear differences on energy policy. McCain favors suspending the gas tax for the summer driving season and wants to expand offshore drilling. Obama opposes both and instead advocates longer term assistance to develop alternative energy sources.
Poll: Obama, McCain tied in Ohio, Florida
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Republican John McCain is closing in on his Democratic rival Barack Obama in Ohio and Florida, new polls show. Obama's lead in Pennsylvania also has narrowed.
Here are the numbers from the Quinnipiac University polls, conducted July 23-29:
_In Pennsylvania, Obama leads with 49 percent, compared with McCain's 42 percent. The same poll taken last month showed Obama with a 12-percentage-point lead.
_In Ohio, Obama is at 46 percent, compared with McCain's 44 percent. The Democrat had a 6-point lead last month.
_In Florida, Obama has 46 percent to McCain's 44 percent. Likely independent voters in Florida have shifted toward McCain _ 46 percent support him while 41 percent prefer Obama. Last month, Obama had a 10-point lead among independents.
Web site pulls for Clark as Obama running mate
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Ret. Gen. Wesley Clark is getting an online push for presidential running mate.
A new Web site, , offers readers a chance to sign a petition supporting Clark's placement on the ticket with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. http://www.obamaclark.com
Clark, a Vietnam veteran and former supreme commander of NATO under President Clinton, had been serving as a national security surrogate for Obama until he belittled McCain's qualifications to be president during an appearance on CBS' "Face the Nation" last month.
McCain, a former Navy fighter pilot, was shot down over Hanoi and held prisoner during the Vietnam War.
"I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president," Clark said.
Matt Stoller, a political consultant and blogger who created the pro-Clark Web site, said the flap over Clark's comments "was just a bunch of insiders getting mad." The Web site argues that Clark can complement Obama with his executive experience, a military background and understanding of foreign policy. Clark endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton during the Democratic primaries, but voiced support for Obama once he secured the nomination.
Democrat Barack Obama is statistically tied nationally with Republican John McCain _ 45 percent for Obama and 44 percent for McCain _ among registered voters in the presidential race, according to the latest Gallup Poll Daily tracking update.
Barack Obama campaigned in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, before heading to a fundraiser in Houston.
John McCain met voters in Racine, Wis.
QUOTE OF THE DAY:
"There's a lot of controversies that I have eagerly leapt into in my time. I'm not so dumb that I'm going to jump into that one." _ Republican John McCain, when asked at a town-hall meeting in Wisconsin if he could help resolve the Green Bay Packers' problems with Brett Favre.
STAT OF THE DAY:
In the 2004 presidential election, Republican George Bush won Wisconsin's 1st District, which includes Racine, with 54 percent of the vote. Democrat John Kerry took Iowa's 2nd District, where Cedar Rapids is located, with 55 percent of the vote.
Compiled by Ann Sanner.