Page last updated at 17:02 GMT, Saturday, 2 August 2008 18:02 UK

McCain team 'cynical, not racist'

Barack Obama in St Petersburg, Florida
Race has been a sensitive issue in the campaign

Democrat presidential hopeful Barack Obama says rival John McCain's campaign has been cynical, not racist, in trying to raise fears about his candidacy.

"I think they want to distract people from talking about real issues," the Illinois senator said.

Mr McCain's campaign said earlier this week that Mr Obama had "played the race card" by implying that his Republican rival was racist.

But Mr Obama in turn accused Mr McCain of bringing up the race issue.

Mr Obama was talking to reporters as he campaigned for a second day in Florida.

On Friday, he caused a stir when he signalled he was willing to compromise his stand against further offshore drilling along the US coastline.

'Negative campaigning'

The latest row began when the McCain campaign claimed that Mr Obama had "played the race card" by warning that the Republican would try to scare voters about how Mr Obama looked unlike "all those other presidents on the dollar bills" - all white men.

John McCain in Wisconsin
Mr McCain said a sense of humour was important

Talking to reporters on Saturday, Mr Obama said: "In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist. I think they're cynical."

He said no-one had thought his comments were accusations of racism until Mr McCain's team "started pushing it".

"They're very good at negative campaigning," he added.

He said Mr McCain was seeking to cast him as a risky choice because he did not fit the traditional profile of a presidential candidate.

On Friday, Mr McCain defended a series of television ads mocking Mr Obama as a messianic figure and linking him to celebrities Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Mr McCain said it was important to "display a sense of humour" in the presidential contest.

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