Sen. Jim Webb on Tuesday became the third high-ranking Obama supporter to question Sen. John McCain’s military service, but Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign said it was not part of an orchestrated effort conceived or approved by the Democratic presidential candidate.
“Of course they aren’t,” Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor said.
Mr. Webb, a Virginia Democrat who is often mentioned as a possible running mate for Mr. Obama, said Mr. McCain should “calm down” about his military record. “Don’t be standing up and uttering your political views and implying that all the people in the military support them, because they don’t,” he said on MSNBC.
A Marine who served in Vietnam - a fact he mentioned often as he campaigned for the Senate, occasionally while wearing his son’s desert combat boots - Mr. Webb said “we need to make sure that we take politics out of service.”
The comments followed those of retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, an Obama supporter, who used a Sunday talk show to criticize the presumptive Republican nominee’s experience as a Navy pilot and prisoner of war in Vietnam.
CBS’ Bob Schieffer cited Mr. Clark’s earlier criticisms and noted that Mr. Obama hadn’t had those experiences or been shot down in a fighter plane. “Well, I don’t think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president,” Mr. Clark said.
The next day, top Obama foreign policy adviser Rand Beers said Arizona’s Mr. McCain, who spent five-and-a-half years in a POW camp, does not have the same understanding of the Vietnam War as many soldiers because “he was in isolation essentially for many of those years.”
The Obama campaign - not the candidate - on Monday said it “rejects” the Clark remark, but neither has had any comment about those from Mr. Beers or Mr. Webb.
The McCain campaign, however, weighed in hard and heavy, even threatening retaliation if the Democrat fails to check his top supporters.
“All Barack Obama has to do is tell his campaign surrogates to stop criticizing John McCain’s record of service and this discussion would be over,” McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said. “Apparently his campaign has no intention of doing so. The McCain campaign will not sit idly by and let these ongoing attacks go unanswered.”
McCain surrogates on Tuesday weighed in during a conference call with reporters.
“I do believe that General Clark has made a huge mistake here,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican. “No matter how he sugarcoats it, he’s trying to question John’s service.”
When asked on Tuesday about the roiling situation, Mr. Obama of Illinois stopped short of saying whether Mr. Clark owes Mr. McCain an apology.
“I guess my question is why, given all the vast numbers of things that we got to work on, that that would be a top priority of mine?” he said while campaigning in Zanesville, Ohio. “I don’t think [this] is probably the thing that is keeping Ohioans up at night.”
He also said the criticisms of Mr. McCain’s military service are nothing like the Swift Boat attacks on Sen. John Kerry in 2004, when his Navy colleagues questioned the Democratic presidential nominee’s war record.
“I don’t think that General Clark had the same intent as the Swift Boat ads that we saw four years ago. I reject that analogy. But, what I’ve also said repeatedly is that Senator McCain deserves the utmost honor and respect for his service to our country,” he said.