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McCain defends charge that Obama playing race card

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  • NEW: McCain says he agrees that Obama is playing race card
  • McCain campaign says Obama played race card "from the bottom of the deck"
  • Obama spokesman immediately denies the assertion
  • Obama compares McCain to Bush; McCain compares Obama to Britney Spears

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From Mark Preston and Dana Bash
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. John McCain defended his campaign Thursday for saying that Sen. Barack Obama is playing the race card.

McCain has been highlighting his independence from the Bush administration.

Sen. Barack Obama says Sen. John McCain offers a continuation of failed policies.

McCain's campaign manager charged that Obama falsely accused the McCain campaign of injecting race into the presidential contest.

Asked by CNN's John King whether that was fair criticism, McCain said it was.

"I'm sorry to say that it is. It's legitimate. And there's no place in this campaign for that. There's no place for it, and we shouldn't be doing it," he said in Racine, Wisconsin.

The Obama campaign has denied the accusation, but McCain said, "I'll let the American people judge." Video Watch McCain's interview with John King »

In a statement earlier Thursday, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said, "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 charge came one day after Obama alluded to his race during several stops in Missouri.

An Obama spokesman immediately denied the assertion but noted that the presumptive Democratic nominee believes that the McCain campaign was "using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues."

"This is a race about big challenges: a slumping economy, a broken foreign policy and an energy crisis for everyone but the oil companies," Obama spokesman Bill Burton said. "Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue, but he does believe they're using the same old low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in this campaign, and those are the issues he'll continue to talk about."

At three stops in the battleground state of Missouri, Obama told audiences that his opponent is trying to make voters "scared" of him because he doesn't look like past presidents -- an apparent reference to being black -- and has a "funny name."

"Nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face," Obama said Wednesday in Springfield, Missouri. "So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. 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 those dollar bills, you know. He's risky."

This is not the first time Obama has delivered this line. He made similar comments dating back to the Democratic presidential primary. But a McCain adviser said Davis reacted strongly because the McCain campaign said Obama was directly responding to a new McCain campaign ad.

The political ad, which the McCain campaign released Wednesday, features starlets Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. The ad calls Obama the "biggest celebrity in the world" and asks, "But is he ready to lead?" Video Watch reaction to the attack ad »

Responding to the ad, Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said, "on a day when major news organizations across the country are taking Sen. McCain to task for a steady stream of false, negative attacks, his campaign has launched yet another. Or, as some might say, 'Oops! He did it again.' "

The Obama campaign released a response ad declaring that McCain has taken the "low road" over the course of the presidential campaign.

The ad compares McCain to President Bush and says McCain is "practicing the politics of the past."

Tucker Bounds, spokesman for the McCain campaign, released the following statement in response to the ad: "Pointing out your opponent's worldwide celebrity is not the 'low road,' and neither is pointing out that he opposes oil drilling and supports higher taxes."

As McCain campaigned Wednesday, he stressed his independence from Bush and highlighted times he's spoken against the administration.

"My independence hasn't always made me friends in Washington. I was not elected Ms. Congeniality in the United States Senate," he said at a town hall in Aurora, Colorado.

McCain praised Obama for his speaking abilities and success but said, "my concern with Sen. Obama is -- that on issues big and small -- what he says and what he does are often two different things."

McCain said Obama's solution is to raise taxes and promised that he would not do the same. Video Watch McCain make his promise »

"I want to look you in the eye. I will not raise your taxes nor support a tax increase. I will not do it," he said.


Obama charged that McCain doesn't have any new ideas and said that's why the Arizona senator's campaign is focusing its energy on anti-Obama ads.

"You haven't heard a positive thing out of that campaign in a month. All they do is try to run me down," he said.

All About Barack ObamaJohn McCainU.S. Presidential Election

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