ASPEN, COLO. — An offhand remark Sen. John McCain made to reporters Friday morning is adding kindling to the controversy over an inflammatory new book about Sen. Barack Obama.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee was asked by a reporter if he had a response to the best-selling "Obama Nation" by Jerome Corsi, which repeats discredited allegations about Obama and portrays him as a stealth radical with extensive Muslim ties.
McCain stepped toward the reporter, and the journalist repeated the question: "The Jerome Corsi book? That book, 'Obama Nation,' Jerome Corsi, that some people are asking . . . "
The senator replied, "Gotta keep your sense of humor," and the media were escorted from the room as scheduled at the end of a breakfast meeting.
Campaign spokeswoman Brooke Buchanan soon tried to clarify that the Arizona senator had misheard the question, and said that he thought he was being asked about a political ad.
But Democrats seized on the remark, claiming that McCain was giving the book his tacit seal of approval.
"Despite pledging to run a respectful campaign, McCain is just standing by while Corsi and his publisher, former Dick Cheney aide Mary Matalin, poison this presidential race," reads an e-mail message from the Democratic National Committee's rapid-response team, sent to 3.4 million Americans. "Right now, you can take the next step by pushing back on Corsi, the media, and John McCain. Tackle this smear campaign head on."
The Obama campaign has already released a 41-page, point-by-point rebuttal called "Unfit for Publication" and accused Corsi of being a "discredited liar" who has made "bigoted comments"
Among Corsi's claims: "Obama wants to will all the white blood out of himself so he can become pure black."
Democrats are responding vigorously to "Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality" at least partly because of lessons learned in the failed 2004 candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry.
Four years ago, Corsi and John O'Neill wrote "Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry," which accused Kerry of fabricating incidents of bravery and heroism in the Vietnam War.
Many of those claims were later proved false.
But the book's allegations, which were broadcast in advertisements by the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, and the Kerry campaign's decision to ignore the claims to avoid giving them more publicity are believed to have contributed to his loss to President Bush.
One of the financiers of the Kerry attack ads, T. Boone Pickens, had breakfast Friday with McCain.
Lately, Pickens has focused his efforts on how to reduce the nation's dependence on foreign oil, the topic he took up with McCain.
"We plan on having a similar meeting with Senator Obama in the very near future," Pickens wrote on his website.