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McCain apology angers conservative host

  • Story Highlights
  • Radio talk-show host Bill Cunningham: Sen. John McCain "threw me under the bus"
  • McCain distances self from broadcaster's remarks on Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama
  • Cunningham uses Obama's middle name -- Hussein -- at McCain event
  • Commentator says McCain "ought to attack Democrats," not conservatives
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CINCINNATI, Ohio (CNN) -- A conservative radio talk-show host said that "he's had it up to here" with Sen. John McCain after the GOP presidential candidate repudiated the commentator's remarks about Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at a campaign event.

"John McCain threw me under a bus -- under the 'Straight Talk Express,' " Bill Cunningham told CNN on Tuesday, referring to McCain's campaign bus.

Earlier Tuesday, Cunningham spoke at a McCain campaign event in Cincinnati and called Obama a "hack, Chicago-style Daley politician."

"All is going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand, and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing 'Kumbaya' around the table of Barack Obama," the commentator told the crowd.

Cunningham, known for his flame-throwing style, repeatedly used Obama's middle name -- Hussein -- during his remarks, made as a warm-up for the audience waiting to hear McCain speak.

In his first public comment since Tuesday's event, Cunningham defended his use of Hussein, which he called "a proud Muslim name." Video Watch Cunningham sound off to CNN's John Roberts »

"I have nothing but respect for my Muslim brothers and sisters," he said. "The ones who oppose that particular name, they're the ones with the problem, not me. His name is Barack Hussein Obama."

The radio-show host also compared Clinton unfavorably to first lady Laura Bush during the rally. Video Watch what was said at the Ohio rally »

McCain, who was not onstage as Cunningham spoke, said he was told about the "disparaging remarks."

"I absolutely repudiate such comments, and again I will take responsibility -- it will never happen again. It will never happen again," he said. Video Watch McCain's reaction »

In a statement, Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said that McCain's remarks were appreciated: "It is a sign that if there is a McCain-Obama general election, it can be intensely competitive, but the candidates will attempt to keep it respectful and focused on issues."

Cunningham said McCain "ought to attack Democrats and quit attacking conservatives like me."

"I, for one, regret that John McCain is the nominee of the conservative party," he said.

McCain on Wednesday said his concern wasn't necessarily with what Cunningham said, but where he said it.

"I don't intend in any way to tell talk-show hosts or anyone else in America what they should say or not say. This is a country that people believe in free speech," McCain said. "The reason why I had to repudiate that was because it was a campaign event associated with my campaign."

Cunningham told CNN that organizers in Cincinnati asked him to speak.

"They told me to fire up the crowd ... get them fired up and give them some red meat," he said.

Local campaign workers confirmed Cunningham's account.

Cunningham also disputed McCain's contention that the two had never met, saying he has met the senator twice.

"But I'm not going to meet him again. I've had it up to here with John McCain. I'm joining Ann Coulter in supporting Hillary Rodham Clinton," he said.

McCain staffers said the senator does not recall meeting Cunningham, but it is possible that they may have done so briefly at an event.

"But does Sen. McCain know him? No," an aide said.


McCain has drawn criticism from other conservative voices, including radio hosts Rush Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Hugh Hewitt and Lars Larson.

The senator from Arizona has been at odds with some of the GOP's conservative base for his stance on immigration, support of campaign finance reform and his votes against President Bush's tax cuts. McCain has said he would make the Bush tax cuts permanent. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash, Evan Glass, John King and Shirley Zilberstein contributed to this report.

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