Election 2008

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain speaks with his campaign manager Rick
Davis and wife Cindy McCain.

Guilt by Association Hits the Campaign Trail

October 07, 2008 04:20 PM
by Liz Colville
The candidates' friends, associates and business partners take center stage in an escalation of attacks on the campaign trail.

Guilt by Association

Less than a month before Election Day, the candidates' personal and past relationships have taken on new life in a series of attacks, both in speeches and campaign advertisements.

Beginning with campaign stops last weekend, the Republican ticket began including direct references to relationships Ill. Sen. Barack Obama has with controversial figures.

The speeches were accompanied by a number of television appearances by Ariz. Sen. John McCain surrogates raising similar questions about past relationships.

The morning after saw a broad attack from the Obama camp on McCain's personal and professional connections to a financial scandal in the late 1980s, complete with a short documentary, which attempted to connect the event to the current credit and mortgage crisis.

This escalation in rhetoric appeared to begin with a pair of television ads released Sept. 20, in which McCain and Obama made references to each other’s political ties in attempts to undercut the “Washington outsider” status that both claim, and to otherwise call into question each other’s credibility by highlighting certain political relationships.
McCain’s ad focused on Obama’s connections to Chicago figures like real estate developer and former Obama fundraiser Tony Rezko, who was indicted in 2006 for “soliciting kickbacks from companies seeking state pension business under his friend [Ill.] Gov. Blagojevich,” as the Chicago Sun-Times wrote in January. Following Rezko’s conviction in June of this year, Obama commented, “This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shine a spotlight on the need for reform.”

Obama’s campaign has repeatedly made the case that McCain has aligned himself closely to President George W. Bush’s policies and voting record. In Obama’s new ad, McCain is linked to the Bush administration once again. The ad starts, “We’ve seen what Bush–McCain policies have done to our economy,” and goes on to reference a recent article by McCain in which the Republican candidate advocated deregulating health care “as we have done over the last decade in banking.”

Other associations that may come back to haunt the candidates include Obama’s connections to the University of Chicago Medical Center, where his wife Michelle has been an employee for nearly 10 years. The Washington Post reported this summer that Sen. Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa who serves on the Senate Finance Committee, was “troubled” by the hospital’s efforts to redirect low income patients to local clinics, a project in which Mrs. Obama is a “key figure.” In a report for the Post, Joe Stephens found that the firm of David Axelrod, who later became Obama’s campaign manager, was hired to help promote the project, called the Urban Health Initiative.

Sen. Grassley “has argued that nonprofit hospitals should spend more resources on the poor and be more financially accountable, in return for the millions of dollars they keep each year as a result of their tax-exempt status,” according to the Post. Grassley, in a letter to the medical center, asked about its conflict-of-interest policy, as the center “has numerous ties to Obama’s associates, fundraisers and political advisers.”
On September 23, The New York Times suggested that McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, has questionable ties to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the failed loan giants bought out by the federal government this summer. The Times writes that Davis was paid nearly $2 million over two years by the Homeownership Alliance, an advocacy group set up by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac intended to help the companies “beat back regulatory challenges.” Obama’s campaign also has ties to the companies, as reported by The Washington Post in July.

Also on September 23, an editorial in The Wall Street Journal targets Obama’s connection to Bill Ayers, a former Weather Underground activist whose “brainchild” was the Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC), an education foundation led by Obama from 1995 to 1999. The editorial’s author, Stanley Kurtz, contends that Ayers’ educational platform “called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and … downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism.” The implication for Obama, Kurtz says, is that, “As CAC chairman, Mr. Obama was lending moral and financial support to Mr. Ayers and his radical circle.”

Background: Candidates’ religious ties

McCain’s and Obama’s religious ties have also been called into question, though both candidates have since rejected the most prominent and controversial of those ties. Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s former pastor, has made incendiary and unpatriotic remarks during sermons and interviews; Rev. John Hagee, an evangelical pastor whose support McCain was after, has made anti-Semitic comments and called the Catholic Church a “great whore.” McCain has since “rebuffed” Hagee and another controversial pastor, and Obama distanced himself from Wright earlier in 2008.

Related Topic: Candidates link each other to financial crisis

Earlier in the month, both presidential candidates have implicated each other in the Wall Street crisis set off September 12 by the collapse of Lehman Brothers. McCain, quoted by Bloomberg, said at a campaign event September 19, “The crisis on Wall Street started in the Washington culture of lobbying and influence peddling, and [Obama] was right square in the middle of it.” Obama responded, “There’s only one candidate whose campaign is being run by seven of Washington’s most powerful lobbyists. And folks, it isn’t me.”

Political commentators have also associated the candidates with their respective parties’ roles in the Wall Street crisis. Kevin Hassett, an advisor to McCain, notes that the Democrats balked at a bill that would have “required the companies to eliminate their investments in risky assets,” Hassett said in Bloomberg.

But Albert R. Hunt, also in Bloomberg, argues that Obama “called for the overhaul of the financial-regulatory system and tougher enforcement well before this past week's traumas,” the implication being that McCain did not.

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