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Republicans decry use of 'Hussein' in Obama's name

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  • Committee chairman says statement is "distraction" from big issues
  • "The RNC rejects these kinds of campaign tactics," Duncan says
  • News release also included a photograph of Obama in Kenyan garb
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From Alex Mooney
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Republican National Committee Chairman Mike Duncan formally denounced on Thursday the Tennessee Republican Party's use of Barack Obama's full name in a recent news release questioning the Illinois senator's commitment to Israel.

"The RNC rejects these kinds of campaign tactics," Duncan said in a statement. "We believe this election needs to be about the critical issues confronting our nation."

The statement in question, which was released Monday, said the state party is joining a "growing chorus of Americans concerned about the future of the nation of Israel ... if Sen. Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of the United States."

It also included a photograph of Obama from a 2006 trip to Kenya, in which he is dressed in traditional attire.

The news release was sparked by recent praise for the senator from Nation of Islam Leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made derogatory remarks about Judaism and has indicated his support for Obama.

At Tuesday night's MSNBC debate, Obama said he denounced those comments and did not seek Farrakhan's support.

On Wednesday night, the party removed both the photo and the reference of "Hussein" from the statement after Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander called to express his belief that using them had become a distraction, Tennessee GOP Communications Director Bill Hobbs said.

The news release now includes a clarification that reads, "This release originally referenced a photo of Sen. Obama and incorrectly termed it to be 'Muslim' garb. It is, in fact, Somali tribal garb, hence, we have deleted the photo. Also, in order to diffuse attempts by Democrats and the Left to divert attention from the main point of this release -- that Sen. Obama has surrounded himself with advisers and received endorsements from people who are anti-Semitic and anti-Israel -- we have deleted the use of Barack Obama's middle name."

Hobbs said Thursday that the party will no longer use Obama's middle name in news releases.

"We're not going to be using the middle name now, because apparently, it's become a distraction," he said. "But I would note, not too long ago, I saw a wire story out of the Middle East that talked about how a lot of people there are hungry for Obama to win and, in part, because his middle name gives him a connection, and that story used his middle name, so we're not the first people to notice and use his middle name."

Hobbs denied that the use of Obama's full name carried any racial overtones but said he wasn't surprised the statement has caused such an uproar.

"The left always finds something to pick at other than to describe the issues; we're not surprised at all."

The news release, however, drew a sharp rebuke Wednesday from Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Gray Sasser, who said it "amplifies misinformation, discredited tall tales and Internet innuendo to appeal to the worst in people."

Though it was issued Monday, the release came under fresh scrutiny Wednesday after conservative talk radio host Bill Cunningham repeatedly used Obama's full name at a John McCain campaign event in Cincinnati, Ohio, while describing Obama as a "hack Chicago-style Daley politician" who had yet to be challenged by the media. Video Watch CNN's interview with Cunningham »


And McCain, who on Tuesday denounced Cunningham's remarks, also indicated Wednesday evening that he disapproved of the news release. Video Watch McCain apologize for the remarks »

"This will be a respectful debate," the Arizona senator said in San Antonio. "I have pledged if I am able to secure the nomination of my party, it will be a respectful debate; I will continue to treat Sen. Clinton and Sen. Obama with respect, just as I have treated my primary opponents with great respect." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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