It seems this year's presidential campaign has moved into its the who-did-you-know-a-decade-ago phase.
Republican John McCain's campaign served up attacks over the weekend on Barack Obama's past association with former radical William Ayers, and the Democratic campaign volleyed back a Web site linking McCain to corrupt financier Charles Keating.
Obama's campaign unveiled a 13-minute documentary just after noon Monday examining McCain's role in the Savings & Loan collapse on its new site, Keatingeconomics.com. Keating, head of the failed Lincoln Savings & Loan, asked five senators, including McCain, to pressure federal regulators to turn their focus away from his faltering institution. The Senate ethics committee rebuked McCain for his "poor judgment" on Keating in 1991 but cleared him of corruption charges.
Politico's Mike Allen reports that the Obama campaign is responding to "what it calls McCain's 'guilt-by-association' tactics" with the Keating site.
Over the weekend McCain unleashed running mate Sarah Palin to repeatedly accuse Obama of "palling around" with Ayers, who was a member of the Weather Underground, a radical anti-war group that planned and carried out bombings of government buildings in the late 1960s.
The charge is false. Now a professor of education at the University of Chicago, Ayers hosted a fundraiser for Obama when he ran for the Illinois State Senate in 1996, and the two had served on a board together previously. But there's little evidence the two have had much interaction since then.
"It's a dangerous road, but we have no choice," a top McCain strategist told the New York Daily News. "If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we're going to lose."
Republicans are reportedly preparing attacks based on even-more-tangential Obama associations with foreign names like Rashid Khalidi and Ali Abunimah.
With its Keating response, the Obama campaign seems continually wary of the damage John Kerry suffered without quickly condemning and countering the Swift Boat attacks that contributed to sinking his campaign.
A McCain spokesman said the Arizona Senator has been "open and honest about the Keating matter," while Obama has been "fundamentally dishonest about his friendship and work with the unrepentant terrorist William Ayers."
A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called “somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.”
Obama campaign aides said the Ayers relationship had been greatly exaggerated by opponents to smear the candidate.
Obama's campaign says its rehashing of the Keating matter is much more relevant because McCain continued to advocate for the same deregulatory policies that led to the S&L collapse in the first place.
“While John McCain may want to turn the page on his erratic response to the current economic crisis, we think voters will find his involvement in a similar crisis to be particularly interesting," Obama-Biden communications director Dan Pfeiffer told Politico. "His involvement with Keating is a window into McCain’s economic past, present, and future.”
The Obama campaign released the following ad Monday morning. A longer video is scheduled for release at 12 p.m. EST.