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Tone of US Presidential Campaign Sharpens

With roughly one month to go until Election Day in the United States, the two major presidential campaigns are stepping up their attacks on each other. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from Washington.

The tone turned harder this weekend when Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin launched a new line of attack on Barack Obama.

"Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country," she said.

She was speaking about Obama's association with William Ayres, a college professor who founded a radical group called the Weather Underground in the 1960s.

The group claimed responsibility for bombings on several government buildings as a form of protest during the Vietnam War. Ayres never refuted the claims, but was also never convicted, and later went on to an academic career in Chicago that brought him into contact with Barack Obama.

Ayres hosted a fundraiser more than a decade ago when Obama was running for the Illinois state senate, and they served together on a charity board. But Obama says they were never close and could hardly be called pals.

It is not unusual for vice presidential candidates in the United States to use tough rhetoric, enabling the presidential nominees to stay above the fray. Both Governor Palin and Democratic Senator Joe Biden have done so before and likely will again.

But Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri says these particular comments are a sign the McCain campaign is trying to divert attention from the economy. She appeared on the Fox News Sunday television program.

"Do they really think that America is going to think that Barack Obama is palling around with terrorists? What that man did, Barack Obama has condemned," she said. "And by the way, he did it when Barack Obama was eight years old!"

But McCain supporters in Congress say the Republican candidate is right to raise questions about Obama's character.

Republican Senator Mel Martinez - from the battleground state of Florida - told ABC's This Week that these are legitimate concerns. He stressed Obama came into contact with Ayres at a time when he was just launching his career in politics.

"It is about his judgment and who he associated with during those years and right on into this political campaign," he said.

The morning after the Palin comments, the Obama campaign struck back with a new television ad, targeting John McCain's temperament, and calling into question his behavior during Congressional deliberations on the financial crisis.

"Our financial system [is] in turmoil, and John McCain [was] erratic and out of touch on the economy. No matter his campaign wants to change the subject," the ad says.

Ads from both candidates are expected to intensify and perhaps grow more negative in tone as Election Day approaches. Latest voter surveys show Obama currently in the lead, but in a campaign full of twists and turns, analysts say anything can happen between now and November 4.