's campaign accused on Thursday of playing racial politics a day after the Democratic candidate predicted Republicans would try to scare voters by pointing out "he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."
Obama "played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck," McCain campaign manager Rick Davis said in a statement. He called Obama's remarks "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong."
While Obama was meeting with victims of this summer's flooding here, his aides were initially dismissive of the McCain broadside. "We're not in the habit of reacting every time they put out a statement," spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
The first black candidate with a shot at winning the White House, Obama argued while stumping in Missouri on Wednesday that President Bush and McCain will resort to scare tactics to maintain their hold on the White House because they have little else to offer voters.
"Nobody thinks that Bush and McCain have a real answer to the challenges we face. So what they're going to try to do is make you scared of me," Obama said. "You know, `he's not patriotic enough, he's got a funny name,' you know, `he doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."'
Obama himself didn't make clear what distinctions he thinks McCain is likely to raise regarding the presidents on U.S. currency-white men who for the most part were much older than Obama when elected. McCain has not raised Obama's race as an issue in the campaign; he has said Obama lacks experience.
"This is a potentially risky comment to make for a campaign already under increasing criticism for some of the claims it's made over the past week," said CBSNews.com senior political editor Vaughn Ververs. "Talk about 'the race card' and injection of it into the debate can result in a negative backlash. You can ask the Clinton campaign about that."
On Thursday, Gibbs said the senator was not referring to race.
"What Barack Obama was talking about was that he didn't get here after spending decades in Washington," Gibbs said. "There is nothing more to this than the fact that he was describing that he was new to the political scene. He was referring to the fact that he didn't come into the race with the history of others. It is not about race."
Obama often makes references to his distinctions as a candidate, such as saying there are doubts among some voters because he has "a funny name." At times he refers to his race as well, saying he looks different from any previous candidate but then adding that the differences are not just about race. Addressing supporters Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Springfield, Mo., he said, "It's a leap, electing a 46-year-old black guy named Barack Obama."
During a round of appearances in Missouri, an economically challenged battleground state, Obama worked to link McCain to the unpopular Bush. He said the Republican senator from Arizona would serve the equivalent of a third Bush term if elected. He said the country can't afford more of the same and expect different results.
"That's a definition of madness, but that's what John McCain is offering. He's offering Bush economic policies and Karl Rove politics," Obama said.
He pressed the theme later at a rain-soaked barbecue in Union, Mo.
"They're going to say I'm a risky guy," Obama said. "What they're going to argue is I'm too risky. The real risk is that we miss the moment, that we do not do what's needed because we're afraid."
For its part, McCain's campaign on Wednesday released a withering television ad comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, suggesting the Democrat is little more than a vapid but widely recognized media concoction.
"He's the biggest celebrity in the world, but is he ready to lead?" the voiceover asks in the ad, which mixes images of Obama on his trip to Europe last week with video of the 20-something pop stars.
Obama's campaign quickly responded with a commercial of its own, dismissing McCain's complaints as "baloney" and "baseless."
Throughout the day, Obama argued that McCain "thinks we're on the right track" economically.
"These anxieties seem to be growing with each passing day," Obama said. "We can either choose a new direction for our economy or we can keep doing what we've been doing. My opponent, John McCain, thinks we're on the right track."
That elicited boos from some of the 1,500 people who filled a Springfield high school gymnasium. When an AP-Ipsos poll asked the "right track, wrong track" question this month, 77 percent said they thought the country was on the wrong track. The same poll set Bush's approval rating at 28 percent. Both were records for the AP-Ipsos survey.