Obama: 'Lipstick' Controversy Is Election Ploy

Barack Obama Wednesday fired back at his Republican rivals after they accused him of sexism regarding a lipstick remark he made earlier this week. The Illinois senator also was a guest on CBS' Late Show with David Letterman.

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While John McCain's running mate was going home, the campaign kept her in the headlines. Republicans attacked what they claimed was a sexist dig. Barack Obama said McCain was using stale ideas and said those ideas were like putting lipstick on a pig. The McCain campaign pounced, contending that comment was aimed at Sarah Palin, whose convention speech included a joke about lipstick. She said it was the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull. That was one of the subjects that Barack Obama had to deal with yesterday when he turned up on the David Letterman program on CBS. NPR's Debbie Elliott reports.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Barack Obama told David Letterman this is the silly season in politics, but he admitted that John McCain's choice of a running mate has energized the Republican base and shaken up the race.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Late Show with David Letterman")

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): Well, I - look, there's no doubt that she's been a phenomenon. I mean, you know, as somebody who used to be on the cover of Time and Newsweek, you know…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DAVID LETTERMAN (Talk Show Host): Those were the days.

Sen. OBAMA: Those were the days. I had a recent offer with Popular Mechanics…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Sen. OBAMA: They…

Mr. LETTERMAN: Vacant.

ELLIOTT: At a Norfolk, Virginia high school yesterday, Obama dismissed the controversy as a cynical election ploy and turned his attention back to his education plan. Nonetheless, some Democrats sounded worried.

Ms. KAY CRABS(ph): She's becoming a national folk hero, and no one is taking her to task.

ELLIOTT: Kay Crabs of Virginia Beach says this is a pivotal moment for Barack Obama.

Ms. CRABS: Up until now, Obama has run a flawless campaign. But I think we're at the point that maybe we were with Kerry four years ago when the Swift Boat came out with not just half-truths, but complete lies. And no one addressed that. Everyone took the - in the Kerry campaign - took the high road, which seems natural for intelligent, educated people. But it didn't work.

ELLIOTT: In 2004 the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads made unsubstantiated allegations about Democratic nominee John Kerry. Yesterday, teacher Bruce Hanson said he's frustrated with the tone of this year's race.

Mr. BRUCE HANSON (Teacher): And it seems sometimes on the part of the media and the public almost just turning their heads and ignoring that some things are just not true, and yet for some reason in politics you're able to just say it over and over again even though everyone knows it's not true.

ELLIOTT: At the event, Hanson pressed Obama on what the campaign was going to do about it. Obama answered…

Sen. OBAMA: Our campaign, our job is to just drum home day after day the facts. You know, I still have faith that the truth will out in the end.

ELLIOTT: Today, the candidates are expected to break from the politics to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. They have agreed to suspend all campaign ads, and together they will lay flowers at Ground Zero in New York.

Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

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