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McCain defends Obama from angry taunts

John McCain takes the microphone from Gayle Quinnell, who said she read about Sen. Barack Obama and “he’s an Arab.” McCain replied that Obama was a “decent, family man, citizen.”

Associated Press

John McCain takes the microphone from Gayle Quinnell, who said she read about Sen. Barack Obama and “he’s an Arab.” McCain replied that Obama was a “decent, family man, citizen.”

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

McCain was booed by his own supporters Friday when, in an abrupt switch from raising questions about Barack Obama's character, he described him 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 GOP events this week as McCain supporters see his campaign lag against Obama. Some in the audience are making it personal.

Shouts of "traitor," "terrorist," "treason," "liar," and even "off with his head" have rung from the crowd at McCain and Sarah Palin rallies, and gone unchallenged by them.

McCain changed his tone Friday when supporters at a town hall pressed him to be rougher on Obama. A voter said, "The people here in Minnesota want to see a real fight." Another said Obama would lead the United States into socialism. Another said he did not want his unborn child raised in a country led by Obama.

"If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain said. "But we will be respectful. I admire Sen. 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. Part of their job is to leaven proceedings if tempers run ragged and to rein in an out-of-bounds comment from the crowd.

Not so much this week, at GOP 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," McCain stoked the sentiment. "I think I got the message," he said. "The gentleman is right."

On Friday, McCain rejected the bait. "I don't trust Obama," a woman said. "I have read about him. He's an Arab."

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 louder when McCain appears with Palin, a big draw for GOP social conservatives.

The Secret Service confirmed Friday that it had investigated an episode in which someone in Palin's crowd in Clearwater on Monday shouted "kill him," meaning Obama. There was "no indication that there was anything directed at Obama," Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said. "We looked into it because we always operate in an atmosphere of an abundance of caution."

McCain defends Obama from angry taunts 10/10/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 13, 2008 11:43am]
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