WASHINGTON (AFP) – Democratic leaders warned Sunday they will fight fire with fire in the final push for the presidency, after Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin sparked outrage by attacking Democrat Barack Obama for "palling around with terrorists."
The issue dominated the Sunday morning talk shows just a month before the election, as campaign surrogates argued over the association between Obama andWilliam Ayers, founding member of the radical 1960s group the Weathermen.
Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel warned the Obama campaign would not accept attacks such as Palin's.
"If they want to go down the road of associations, we will go down that road, but America won't win," Emanuel told CNN television.
Obama's camp had previously derided McCain campaign for saying it wanted to "turn the page" away from the economic crisis.
But surrogates made clear Sunday the Democratic ticket would not sit back if McCain engaged in "swift-boat" style politics, referring to the insinuating attacks against Senator John Kerry in 2004, largely blamed for damaging his presidential bid.
Emanuel said: "If we are going to go down this road, you know, Barack Obama at eight years old (was) somehow responsible for Bill Ayers. At 58, John McCainwas associating with Charles Keating."
Keating, a lawyer and banker, was jailed for his role in a major savings and loan scandal in the 1980s, and John McCain was a part of the Keating Five -- a group of five US Senators accused of corruption.
McCain campaign senior adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer maintained Sunday that Obama "misrepresents himself" in his relationship with Ayers.
"Can you imagine if John McCain hung out with ... (or) served on a couple of boards with someone who had been bombing abortion clinics, how that would somehow be considered illegitimate," Pfotenhauer said.
On Saturday, McCain's running mate Palin, the governor of Alaska, told supporters in Englewood, Colorado, that Obama "is someone who sees America as being so imperfect that he is palling around with terrorists who would target their own country."
Ayers's Weathermen group committed bombings on the Pentagon and the Capitol, and who supported Obama's first run for public office in 1995
The Obama campaign blasted the remark as "desperate and false."
Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri fired back: "Really, how ridiculous. American people deserve so much better. Do they really think America is going to think that Barack Obama is palling around with terrorists?"
Senator Sherrod Brown of the battleground state of Ohio said the attack was a warning shot that threatens to bring the race down into the mud.
"You've seen a 26-year Senate veteran morph into a desperate angry ... candidate in the last few weeks, especially the last few days and kind of makes me sad... that John McCain and Sarah Palin are resorting to these tactics."
Palin's sharp jab is in step with recent Republican campaign statements that the McCain camp plans to launch a fierce assault on Obama, with the presidential election less than 30 days away.
Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty said the issue was a crucial test of Obama's character and judgment as Ayers hosted a political event at his home when Obama was starting his political career.
"I think when people realize this is about, you know, ten years ago, 14 years ago, it goes to the issue of what kind of judgment would allow an unrepentant domestic terrorist to host a political event for you in his home," Pawlenty said on ABC's "This Week."