- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 11, 2008

LAKEVILLE, Minn. | The anger is getting raw at Republican rallies and Sen. John McCain is acting to tamp it down.

Mr. McCain was booed by his own supporters Friday when, in an abrupt switch from raising questions about Sen. Barack Obama’s character, he described the Democrat as a “decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”

A sense of grievance spilling into rage has gripped some Republican events this week as McCain supporters see his presidential campaign lag against Mr. Obama. Some in the audience are making it personal, against the Democrat. Shouts of “traitor,” “terrorist,” “treason,” “liar,” and even “off with his head” have rung from the crowd at Mr. McCain’s and running mate Gov. Sarah Palin’s rallies, and gone unchallenged by them.

Mr. McCain changed his tone Friday when supporters at a town hall pressed him to be rougher on Mr. Obama. A voter said, “The people here in Minnesota want to see a real fight.”

“If you want a fight, we will fight,” Mr. McCain said. “But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments.” When people booed, he cut them off.

“I don’t mean that has to reduce your ferocity,” he said. “I just mean to say you have to be respectful.”

Presidential candidates are accustomed to raucous rallies this close to Election Day and welcome the enthusiasm. But they are also traditionally monitors of sorts from the stage.

Not so much this week, at Republican rallies in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida and other states.

When a visibly angry McCain supporter in Waukesha, Wis., on Thursday told the candidate “I’m really mad” because of “socialists taking over the country,” Mr. McCain stoked the sentiment. “I think I got the message,” he said. “The gentleman is right.”

On Friday, Mr. McCain rejected the bait.

“I don’t trust Obama,” a woman said. “I have read about him. He’s an Arab.”

Mr. McCain shook his head in disagreement, and said: “No, ma’am. He’s a decent, family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign is all about.”

The anti-Obama taunts and jeers are noticeably louder when Mr. McCain appears with Mrs. Palin, a big draw for Republican social conservatives. She accused Mr. Obama this week of “palling around with terrorists” because of his past, loose association with a 1960s radical. If less directly, Mr. McCain, too, has sought to exploit Mr. Obama’s Chicago neighborhood ties to William Ayers, while trying simultaneously to steer voters’ attention to his plans for the financial crisis.

The Alaska governor did not campaign with Mr. McCain on Friday, and his rally in La Crosse, Wis., earlier Friday was much more subdued than those when the two campaigned together. Still, one woman shouted “traitor” when Mr. McCain told voters Mr. Obama would raise their taxes.

Volunteers worked up chants from the crowd of “U.S.A.” and “John McCain, John McCain,” in an apparent attempt to drown out boos and other displays of negative energy.

The Secret Service confirmed Friday that it had investigated an episode reported in The Washington Post in which someone in Mrs. Palin’s crowd in Clearwater, Fla., shouted “kill him,” on Monday, meaning Mr. Obama. There was “no indication that there was anything directed at Obama,” Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren told the Associated Press .

AP writer Beth Fouhy reported from New York. Joe Milicia contributed to this story from Cleveland.

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