McCain has accused Obama of playing politics with race for predicting that the likely Republican nominee and others in the GOP would try to scare voters by saying the Democrat "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills." Obama's spokesmen denied he was referring to being black, although all the presidents on U.S. currency are white.
Obama senior strategist David Axelrod said Friday that race became an issue only when the McCain campaign cast a racial slant on Obama's remarks, which were made at a campaign swing Wednesday in rural Missouri.
The next day, McCain campaign manager Rick Davis issued a statement claiming that Obama had played "the race card" and calling the remarks "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."
"We are not going to let anybody paint John McCain, who has fought his entire life for equal rights for everyone, to be able to be painted as racist," Davis said Friday on "Today" on NBC. "We've seen this happen before and we're not going to let it happen to us."
Axelrod rejected the charge and repeated the assertion that Obama was talking about his status as a young, relative newcomer to Washington politics.
"Barack Obama never called John McCain a racist," Axelrod said on "The Early Show" on CBS News. "What Barack Obama was saying is he's not exactly from Central Casting for presidential candidates."
Axelrod criticized McCain for saying he was "proud" of a TV spot linking Obama to stars Britney Spears and Paris Hilton and suggesting that while popular around the world Obama wasn't qualified to lead the U.S.
"They've been running a negative campaign for weeks," Axelrod said on NBC. "We're not going negative in return. We're refuting the charges."
Davis, appearing on ABC's "Good Morning America," countered: "It's a great ad and everybody's talking about it and we're having a great time with it."
As far as who was responsible for the campaign's negative tone, Davis said on NBC: "We didn't draw first blood. I mean, this campaign has been rough and tumble since the day Barack Obama got his nomination, and we've withered under the attacks of the Obama campaign on a daily basis."