Race Issue Flares Again In Presidential Campaign

The issue of race that has been simmering throughout the presidential campaign. It came up again over the weekend as civil rights icon and Democractic Congressman John Lewis issued a statement decrying what he called the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

That's vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin campaigning in Ohio yesterday. The issue of race has been simmering throughout the presidential campaign. It came up again this past weekend as Democratic Congressman John Lewis who was a leader in the civil rights movement issued a statement decrying what he called the negative tone of the McCain-Palin campaign. Some critics have accused the Republicans of using racially coded language aimed at frightening white voters worried about the possibility of a black president. Republican presidential nominee John McCain's camp defended what it called legitimate criticism of his Democratic opponent. NPR's Allison Keyes reports.

ALLISON KEYES: At issue were speeches McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, made at rallies last week and the response from the crowd that visibly angry.

(Soundbite of a McCain-Palin campaign)

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona, Presidential Candidate): What does he plan for America? In short, who is the real Barack Obama?

Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska, Vice Presidential Candidate): I am just so fearful that this is not a man who sees America the way that you and I see America - as the greatest source for good in this world.

KEYES: Eugene Robinson, a liberal columnist and associate editor at the Washington Post, says he hears a racial tinge in the Republican statements at the rallies.

Mr. EUGENE ROBINSON (Liberal Columnist, Associate Editor, Washington Post): What they ended up to was an attempted kind of marginalize is not the word but to separate from mainstream white America and to point a finger and say this guy is different and there's something wrong with that, something dangerous about that.

KEYES: Robinson's conservative colleague, syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, think the Republicans' words are clearly designed to stoke the fears and anger of the poor white element of the Republican Party and the GOP should dial it back.

Ms. KATHLEEN PARKER (Syndicated Columnist): When you are purposely inciting people to anger and to negative responses, then you do risk being responsible at some point for an overreaction. I think nobody wants to talk about assassination - that's the first time I've actually used the word - with regards to Obama. But that's a fear that everyone has.

KEYES: On Friday, after nearly a week shouts of terrorists, Senator McCain asked his supporters to show restraint.

Senator MCCAIN: And we want to fight and I will fight but we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments. I will respect him, and I want everyone to be respectful and let's make sure we are.

KEYES: The issue obviously remains a minefield. On Saturday, Georgia Representative John Lewis who was beaten by police during the Civil Rights Movement invoked segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace noting that Wallace created a climate that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans. McCain called Lewis comments a character attack on the Republican ticket and those who attend the rallies. In a statement, Obama's camp said the Democrat didn't believe McCain was in any way comparable to Wallace. Lewis later issued a statement saying that wasn't his intention. He wanted to remind all Americans that toxic language can lead to destructive behavior. Allison Keyes, NPR News, Washington.

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