Candidates attack political associations

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Sen. Barack Obama palled around with unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers, made deals with Chicago moneyman Tony Rezko, attended the church of a racist pastor and befriended a PLO apologist.

If you changed the channels or Web pages, you couldn´t miss the unmistakable message that Sen. John McCain has been in league with President Bush “90 percent of the time,” became entangled with a failed S&L owner, or was surrounded by Wall Street and K Street lobbyists.

Throughout this lengthy and historic presidential race, the politics of association has been the preferred tool of attack, for the campaigns themselves, news outlets, pressure groups, and partisan magazines and Web sites.

While candidates often draw distinctions based on a rival’s associations, the tactic dominates this year’s race largely because Mr. Obama’s short resume gives Mr. McCain few options for staging attacks, said James Gimpel, political science professor at the University of Maryland at College Park.

“Obama has no record to speak of, so character and judgment serve as a stand-in for policy record,” Mr. Gimpel said. “There are, of course, people who are not enthusiastic about McCain but might go to vote against Obama if you can give them reasons to do it.”

The focus on bad company intensified in the final stretch as the Obama campaign debuted a Web site, www.keatingeconomics.com, showcasing Mr. McCain’s role in the 1989 Keating Five scandal. The site, titled “Keating Economics,” featured a 13-minute documentary of how savings and loan owner Charles Keating used campaign donations to curry favors from five U.S. senators, including Mr. McCain.

The video resurrects claims that Mr. McCain “had the closest personal friendship” with Mr. Keating, who pleaded guilty to fraud charges connected to bilking bondholders when Lincoln Savings and Loan collapsed in 1989.

It neglects to mention that Mr. McCain received one of the softest rebukes from the Senate ethics committee, was the only one of the five to later testify against Mr. Keating in a civil lawsuit by bondholders, and was the only Republican among the five senators.

Mr. McCain drew fresh attention this week to Mr. Obama’s friendship with Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian university professor who has condemned Israel and has been accused of being a Palestine Liberation Organization spokesman and an apologist for its terrorism. He called for the Los Angeles Times to release a videotape it has of a 2003 party in Chicago honoring Mr. Khalidi where Mr. Obama gives a speech.

The newspaper published an article in April about Mr. Obama attending the party and cited the videotape as corroborating the story. Editors refused to disseminate the videotape, saying it was provided by a confidential source on the condition that it not be released.

“Now why that should not be made public is beyond me,” Mr. McCain said in a radio interview in Miami. “I guarantee you if there was a tape with me and [Republican vice-presidential nominee] Sarah Palin and some neo-Nazi … you think that tape wouldn’t be made public? Of course, Americans need to know, particularly about Ayers, also about the PLO. … It’s really unfortunate that we have to go through this.”

Mr. McCain and his campaign have repeatedly tied Mr. Ayers to the Democratic nominee, including in one of the presidential debates, accusing Mr. Obama of “palling around” with him and then underplaying the extent of his relationship with the man who founded the violent Weather Underground group.

The McCain campaign held two conference calls with reporters Thursday to decry what it says are some of Mr. Obama’s other shady relationships.

The campaign first assaulted Mr. Obama’s close ties to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), the liberal advocacy group whose national voter-registration drive is at the center of voter fraud investigations in a dozen states, many of them electoral battlegrounds, such as Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The McCain campaign drew attention to a former ACORN employee’s testimony in a Pennsylvania court this week that the group was given donor lists by several Democratic presidential campaigns, including Mr. Obama’s, to milk for contributions.

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