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Obama says McCain race card attack 'typical'

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  • NEW: Nobody "thought at all that I was trying to inject race in this," Obama says
  • NEW: McCain says Obama leans on "rhetoric," lacks substance
  • McCain campaign manager Rick Davis: "We didn't draw first blood"
  • Obama spokesman David Axelrod: "Country expected more" from McCain
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From Ed Hornick
CNN
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama responded Friday to recent race card attacks by Sen. John McCain, saying it's a "typical pattern" for the Arizona senator's campaign.

Sen. John McCain's campaign says it's merely reacting to an attack on the Arizona senator.

Sen. Barack Obama's campaign says Sen. John McCain has turned to negative campaigning.

"I was in Union, Missouri, which is 98 percent white -- a rural, conservative [city]. And what I said was what I think everybody knows, which is that I don't look like I came out of central casting when it comes to presidential candidates," he said in an interview with Florida's St. Petersburg Times newspaper and Bay News 9.

"There was nobody there who thought at all that I was trying to inject race in this," he said. "What this has become, I think, is a typical pattern from the McCain campaign, whether it's Paris Hilton or Britney or this phony allegation that I wouldn't visit troops. They seem to be focused on a negative campaign. What I think our campaign wants to do is focus on the issues that matter to American families."

At three stops in the battleground state of Missouri on Tuesday, 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." Video Watch more of Obama's comments »

This is not the first time Obama has delivered this line. He made similar comments during the Democratic presidential primary.

McCain, meanwhile, continued to lash out at his Democratic opponent Friday at the Urban League's annual gathering in Orlando, Florida, calling into question the substance of Obama's message.

He mentioned several black leaders -- including former Democratic Rep. Harold Ford Jr. and activist Al Sharpton -- by name as he lauded bipartisan efforts to overhaul the nation's school systems. But Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, who is slated to address the group Saturday, rated several swipes.

"You'll hear from my opponent, Sen. Obama, tomorrow, and if there's one thing he always delivers, it's a great speech," McCain said as he began his address, which criticized Obama on issues ranging from tax policy to education reform. "But I hope you'll listen carefully, because his ideas are not always as impressive as his rhetoric."

Meanwhile, top aides from both campaigns took to the airwaves Friday in a political volleyball-like debate.

Appearing on NBC's "Today Show" Friday, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said the campaign is merely reacting to what he deems an attack on the Arizona senator.

"I think we were perfectly within our rights to protect our candidate and to point out that we're not going to lay down for these kinds of tactics," he said. "And I think that was fair."

Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, said Friday that he took Obama's comments to be an attempt to inject some humor into the campaign and took issue with McCain's contention.

"This wasn't injecting race at all. ... That's not the issue here at all, and I don't understand why they seem to try to make something out of a thing that took place months ago," Clyburn said. "He said it out in Mississippi before an all-white audience. And nobody saw it as injecting race. And so I think it's a shame that a man that I've always considered to be very honorable seems to be running such a dishonorable campaign."

But former Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican who supports McCain, called Obama's comments "a very sophisticated injection of race."

"It was sort of like a political prophylactic," Blackwell said. "[Obama] was anticipating, you know, that race will be an issue, although John McCain has worked very, very diligently to make sure that race is not the issue.

Meanwhile, Davis also responded to criticism that the campaign is going negative.

"We'll let the chips fall where they may when it comes to how people perceive this, but we are not going to let anybody paint John McCain, who's fought his entire life for equal rights for everyone, to be able to be painted as racist."

We didn't draw first blood. I mean, this campaign has been rough and tumble since the day Barack Obama got his nomination, and we've withered under the attacks of the Obama campaign on a daily basis."

It's a point McCain made to CNN's John King on Thursday.

"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 »

Obama campaign spokesman David Axelrod reacted to that criticism Friday.

"What's happened is that Sen. McCain has made a decision that he's going to run 100 percent negative ads, and you know why -- because he's trying to defend policies that are indefensible in our economy, foreign policy," Axelrod said on CBS' "Early Show." "This is not the John McCain that we expected in this campaign. This is not the John McCain who ran in 2000."

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Axelrod also defended Obama's comment, saying that "Barack Obama never called John McCain a racist. ... And, in fact, you know, the quote that Rick's referring to happened at a town hall meeting in a rural area of Missouri ... not one newspaper reported it the way he accounts for it."

Axelrod told ABC's Chris Cuomo on Friday: "And now we see Sen. McCain saying he's proud of his Britney Spears, Paris Hilton ad. ... And it's really a shame. I think the country expected more," he said.

CNN's Dana Bash, John King, Alexander Mooney and Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

All About Barack ObamaJohn McCainU.S. Presidential Election

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