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McCain vs. Obama: The race race

A Pew poll shows Obama leading McCain 47%-42% nationally.

The McCain campaign seemed to issue a warning shot to the Obama campaign that it won't let Obama subtlely use the race card as a generic deflection. But in issuing the warning, the issue of race in general popped as the topic du jour of the day. Politico has a pretty good rundown of why the McCain folks decided to push the issue yesterday: "McCain aides say their goal is to pre-empt what they believe is Obama's effort to paint any conventional campaign attacks as race-based. Obama's aim, in the view of the McCain camp: 'to delegitimize any line of attack against him,' said McCain aide Steve Schmidt… 'I don't [care] whether it helps or hurts us,' Schmidt said. 'A lie unresponded to becomes the truth.'

VIDEO: John McCain's campaign manager says Barack Obama played the race card when he criticized the Republican presidential candidate's tactics. MSNBC's David Shuster talks to political pundits.

More: "Schmidt said McCain had learned the lesson of Clinton's campaign, which began by taking her and her husband's affinity with African-American voters for granted but wound up seeing days and weeks consumed by racially charged gaffes and allegations, ranging from a New Hampshire supporter's suggestion that Obama had dealt drugs to Bill Clinton's own comparison of Obama's campaign to the Rev. Jesse Jackson's."

By the way, this is fascinating and should fire up Obama folks in the blogosphere: Clinton confidante Howard Wolfson seemed to back up Schmidt's argument. "'I think the McCain camp watched our primary on the Democratic side very carefully and they know that any accusation of racial divisiveness can be very, very harmful for a candidate's prospects,' Wolfson said on Fox News Thursday, adding that the allegations against Clinton were unfair. 'They heard something that Senator Obama said and they felt they had to respond quickly to make sure that nobody got the impression that they were engaged in those kind of racial politics.'"

The New York Times seems to put the onus of raising the race issue on Rick Davis. "With his rejoinder about playing 'the race card,' Mr. Davis effectively assured that race would once again become an unavoidable issue as voters face an election in which, for the first time, one of the major parties' nominees is African-American. And with its criticism, the McCain campaign was ensuring that Mr. Obama's race — he is the son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas — would again be a factor in coverage of the presidential race. On Thursday, it took the spotlight from Mr. Obama when he had sought to attack Mr. McCain on energy issues."

"The tactic could cut both ways: it might tap into the qualms some white, working-class voters in crucial swing states may have about a black candidate, or it could ricochet back against the McCain campaign, which has been accused even by some fellow Republicans of engaging in overly negative campaigning in recent days."

The Boston Globe adds: "Obama has often talked about his physical appearance in campaign speeches, but McCain advisers said he crossed a significant line by accusing the GOP of scare tactics and alluding to his own race in the same breath."

The Los Angeles Times attempts to report out the "who started it" aspect of this race story. "'The most negative, abhorrent, nasty, vicious comment made in this race was the insinuation by Barack Obama that John McCain was going to run a racist campaign,' Steve Schmidt, McCain's chief strategist, said in an interview. 'The McCain campaign will not stand for it. There is no evidence of it. It's not true, and we will rebut it.'"

"Obama's campaign denied the candidate suggested any such thing. 'Barack Obama in no way believes that the McCain campaign is using race as an issue," said spokesman Bill Burton. 'But he does believe they're using the same low-road politics to distract voters from the real issues in the campaign.' Privately, campaign aides said Obama's comments alluded to falsehoods widely spread on the Internet and to racial comments that have plagued his campaign from the outset."

Other Democrats flatly accused McCain of using race as an issue to undercut Obama. "'He learned a lot in South Carolina in 2000, apparently not all of it good,' said Dick Harpootlian, the former Democratic chairman in the state, which has a long history of racially tinged politics. McCain lost the 2000 South Carolina GOP primary -- and his first shot at the presidency -- in part because of a whispering campaign that accused him of fathering an illegitimate black child."