From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, and Domenico Montanaro
Earlier this morning, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis released this one-sentence statement: "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 statement refers to this Obama line yesterday: "So nobody really thinks that Bush or McCain have a real answer for the challenges we face, 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. That's essentially the argument they're making."
Obama's remark yesterday seemed innocuous. In fact, it's similar to what he has said many times before. "I know that I don't look like the Americans who've previously spoken in this great city," Obama noted in last week's speech in Berlin.
Perhaps more important, Obama's remarks wouldn't have been seen as playing the race card if Davis hadn't issued this release. After all, the best way to play the race card sometimes is to accuse the other side of playing it.
Could you argue Obama has used the color of his skin as an attempt to garner votes? Yes. Could you also argue that some Republicans have played the race card? Yes. (See here and here and here.) And was it inevitable that race was going to play a role in this campaign? Yes.
But Obama's remarks yesterday seemed like an obvious observation; Obama was very subtle. Davis, though, decided to use a sledgehammer.
Obama spokesman Bill Burton issued this statement: "This is a race about big challenges -- a slumping economy, a broken foreign policy, and an energy crisis for everyone but the oil companies. 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."
*** UPDATE *** Davis was on MSNBC during the 1:00 pm ET hour with NBC's Andrea Mitchell and defended -- with gusto -- his "race card" assertion. Mitchell played a clip of Obama at the town hall yesterday, and she asked Davis how it was Obama playing the race card.
"Well, I think it goes well beyond that," Davis said. "First of all, that was one of three instances yesterday that Barack Obama said the same thing in three different locations in Missouri. Secondarily, his campaign actively has been feeding to journalists all night last night and all day today, the notion that somehow something we have done in our campaign -- of which I could not identify for you today -- was somehow, had racial overtones. Third, liberal blogs all around the country were actively pursuing this this morning, which I can only assume didn't come out of the blue. And so, I just wanted to make it clear. And to be honest, I don't know how else you explain the quote that you just played other than to believe that somehow Barack Obama was calling something we'd done racist or something we had done with racial overtones. Otherwise I don't know what else he was talking about."