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Obama Responds To McCain Character Attacks

The political rhetoric continues to heat up in the U.S. presidential race. On Friday, Democrat Barack Obama accused Republican John McCain of trying to divide the country with angry remarks and negative television ads. For his part, McCain demanded that Obama answer questions about his relationship with a 1960's anti-war radical, William Ayers. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has the latest from Washington.

Democrat Barack Obama continued his campaign swing through the critical state of Ohio by focusing on the economy.

Obama urged Americans to remain calm even as they tracked the hour-to-hour volatility of the stock market and their dwindling retirement accounts. "So now is not the time for fear. Now is not the time for panic," he said. "Now is not the time to turn Americans against each other. Now is the time for resolve and steady leadership."

Obama also noted the continuing attacks on his character from the McCain campaign. Obama said it was part of a McCain strategy to divert public attention away from the ongoing economic crisis and whip up anger among Republicans attending McCain rallies.

"Nothing is easier than riling up a crowd by stoking anger and division, but that is not what we need right now in the United States," he said. "The times are too serious. The challenges are too great. The American people aren't looking for someone who can divide this country. They are looking for someone who can lead this country."

Senator McCain campaigned Friday in another key Midwest battleground state, Wisconsin. McCain urged supporters to rally behind his campaign in the final weeks before the election on November 4.

"I am here this morning to ask your help in a tough and hard-fought election," he said. "And it is tough and we are the underdogs and we are going to come from behind like we have every time in the past. How many times, my friends, have the pundits written off the McCain campaign? We are going to fool them again. We are going to fool them one more time."

McCain argued that he would be a stronger leader to deal with the financial crisis.

But McCain also kept up his attack on Obama over the Democrat's ties with 1960's anti-war radical William Ayers. Ayers and Obama live near one another in Chicago and have served together on charity boards, but the Obama campaign says the two men are not close.

During his Wisconsin rally, McCain said it was time Obama was more forthcoming about his relationship with Ayers. "Rather than answer his critics, Senator Obama will try to distract you from noticing that he never answers the serious and legitimate questions he has been asked," he said.

The McCain campaign has also released a new television ad that accuses Obama of lying to cover up his links with Ayers. Many political experts question whether McCain's strategy of attacking Obama's character will have much of an impact in the midst of a financial crisis.

Larry Sabato directs the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. "They will be determined on the basis of those big issues, especially the ones bundled with the economy," he said. "That is what will determine this election no matter how many charges are made back and forth about William Ayers or the Keating Five or all the rest of it. These are almost irrelevancies."

The continuing focus on the economy seems to be helping Obama and hurting McCain in public opinion polls.

The latest Reuters-Zogby-Cspan poll gives Obama a lead over McCain by a margin of 48 to 43 percent. Other national polls in recent days put Obama ahead of McCain by margins of anywhere from three to eight percentage points.