The race card: Did Obama play it or is McCain playing games?

July 31, 2008

John McCain thinks Barack Obama is playing the race card.
The Republican presidential candidate and his staff were upset by a comment Obama made on the campaign trail.
During a campaign speech, the Illinois Democrat told supporters Republicans were trying to make voters scared of him.
“What they’re saying is, well, we know we’re not very good, but you can’t risk electing Obama. You know, he’s new, he’s — he doesn’t look like the other presidents on the currency. He — you know, he’s got a — he’s got a funny name. I mean, that’s basically the argument, he’s too risky,” Obama said.
McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, jumped on the comment.
“Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong,” Davis said in a written statement.

McCain agreed with Davis, telling reporters he was “very disappointed” that Obama had used the race card.”Race will not have any role in my campaign, nor is there any place for it. I’m disappointed that he’s used it.” 
The back and forth came a day after Davis unveiled a new McCain attack ad comparing Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, insisting in a conference call with reporters that Obama was the biggest celebrity in the world.
A report out the same day said about a third of McCain’s advertisements are negative attacks on Obama, while 90 percent of Obama’s ads don’t even mention McCain.
Obama spokesman David Plouffe told reporters Obama in no way used race as an issue and that McCain’s camp was trying to distract voters from larger issues.
“Folks ought to just buckle up their seat belts,” he added. “We assume this is what the campaign will be like.”

McCain dismissed Democratic charges he was taking the low road, saying Obama had “run negative ads on me continuously, and I might point out for the record that his was the first.” 

So what do you think? Does the McCain campaign have a legitimate complaint? Or is this just part of a strategy of using negative attacks erode Obama’s standing with voters? 


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Yes Obama is playing the race card and has, his whole attitude is that of a racist. My only real hope is the Colin Powel comes to his senses and decides to run, otherwise I am stuck choosing between 1) Racist 2) Moron 3) Not voting AGAIN. Voting every other presidency is getting old and this time I am skipping two in a row it looks like. COME, America grow up, Having National Pride isn\’t an evil thing, demanding our Elected leaders follow a moral path isn\’t \’bad\’. Holding them accountable for their actions USED to determine if they got voted for in the first place…
Man, we live through all of these worries and fears just to have them come true. Well\’s \”1980\’, Red Fear … It is a shame we can\’t be America, now we are … lost.

Posted by Alex Talmont | Report as abusive

When the US is faced with such daunting challenges, we need both Obama and McCain to focus on how to improve eduction, strenghten the economy, balance the budget, a workable engergy policy, healthcare coverage….. These are the real issues that need to be discussed and debated. They are both honorable men and aspire for a better America. They will both need to demonstrate leadership, at all levels. Let us hope we can move beyond this petty bickering on whether the race card has or has not been played.

Posted by Edward Malno | Report as abusive

When the US is faced with such daunting challenges, we need both Obama and McCain to focus on how to improve education, strenghten the economy, balance the budget, a workable engergy policy, healthcare coverage….. These are the real issues that need to be discussed and debated. They are both honorable men and aspire for a better America. They will both need to demonstrate leadership, at all levels. Let us hope we can move beyond this petty bickering on whether the race card has or has not been played.

Posted by Edward Malno | Report as abusive

What did we really think was going to happen when Barack Hussein Obama was made the appointee. He is not any diffrent then any other person of color. It is time to stop with using the RACE card. Please think of something that is original. The American people have brains and they can think for themselves. Do the Elite Demos really think the people are stupid and cannnot look at facts? O yes that is right they think that everyone but themselves are stupid.
The American people need to vote for someone that is not going to blame everyone else. Barack Hussein Obama need to stop cry and be a man and run on the most LIberal Record in the Senate tell the truth. You want America to be Socialist. At least say what you mean. That is what is missing from the presidential race honesty. Tell that people what you believe not what they want to hear.

Posted by DJ | Report as abusive

I think that politics is getting totally out of control ! what ever happened to voting on the issues instead of all the propaganda spread around by the media. Which in my opinion is making the whole matter worse..If it wasn’t for the media trying to make the worst out of any situation there is about anything, Not just politics. Maybe the whole thing wouldn’t be blown out of proportion all the time !!

Posted by wrongway feldman | Report as abusive

One of the reasons people are outraged by McCain’s negativity is that he made so many promises about keeping the campaign clean. Now he tells us how proud he is of his ads. His campaign has been hijacked by the right wing thugs. People are not that stupid, they will see his baseless petty attacks for what they are.

Posted by Steve | Report as abusive

I don’t want another President asking other people to make his decisions because he isn’t experienced enough to know what to do. We had that with Bush, Jr. I want someone who knows his own mind, isn’t afraid to change it if the situation calls for it, and who will defend this country and my freedom to the bitter end. I am just not sure that is Obama folks.

For those of you who think McCain is Bush lite, you must be Democrats, because Bush republicans REALLY don’t like McCain because he is way tooo liberal and moderate for them. Sorry

Posted by Beenatthiswaytoolong | Report as abusive

The McCain campaign is desperate. The higher aspirations at its inception have been tossed in favor of dishonest negative attacks. They know it works – Karl Rove proved that. It’s just sad to see it degenerate to these means – great for short term results, but bad for the USA.

Posted by Dave | Report as abusive

The most annoying comments posted here are by those people who would like to pretend that they were REALLY swaying toward McCain, but horror of horrors these new negative ads have them leaning towards Obama. Please.

One other point: Obama would certainly make a great TV president- smart, well-spoken, confident. In fact, his campaign reminds me of a bizarre version of “The West Wing”. Intelligent and a great political player? Yes. Play-acting unkown and a bit devious? Also yes. President? No.

Posted by jay fein | Report as abusive

As long as people have eyes and media has the first amendment, race will be an issue. Whites are so programmed to not sound racist their afraid to speak their mind. Blacks, on the other hand, never miss a chance to remind us they are black as if they deserve special status. Obama and McCain are both using race whenever it works in their favor.

McCain’s ad portraying Obama as a celebrity is accurate. Obama came out of nowhere and was elevated to iconic status through marketing – not track record. Marketing that intentionally tied his race to the idea of change.

I have no doubt that Obama is a great man. I have no doubt that his heart is in the right place. I have no doubt that Obama is a leader and may someday be qualified to be president. But I have no fear of saying this is not his time – not because of his race. He’s not READY to be president.

Be careful what you wish for in change. The thing about ‘fads’ is they burn out in popularity quickly leaving you empty and looking for something new – again. Great things are achieved in small steps.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

McCain has a great argument: “He did it first, so it is ok.” That is who I want for president; a guy who cries foul then does the same back. He needs to grow up. Tit-for-tat is for children.

Posted by Nathan | Report as abusive

McCain’s campaign manager, Rick Davis, jumped on the comment.
“Barack Obama has played the race card, and he played it from the bottom of the deck. It’s divisive, negative, shameful and wrong,” Davis said in a written statement.
McCain agreed with Davis, telling reporters he was “very disappointed” that Obama had used the race card.
“Race will not have any role in my campaign, nor is there any place for it. I’m disappointed that he’s used it.”

Here we go again, Mr. & Mrs. Reader.

One has only to think back on the entire political career of George W. Bush with Karl Rove at his side to see what Mr. McCain is up to with Karl Rove now apparently at his side as well.

From the time Mr. Bush unseated Ann Richards as Texas governor in 1994 until Mr. Bush defeated John McCain himself in the 2000 republican presidential primary, and until Mr. Bush defeated John Kerry for president in 2004…absurdly outrageous campaign rumors have been the republican hallmark when the republican candidate has been down in most major polls.

In Texas, the absurdly outrageous “lesbian sex card” was reportedly played against Mrs. Richards in 1994. The even more absurd “black race card” was reportedly played against Mr. McCain himself in 2000. The “fake Veteran card” was so very obviously played against Mr. Kerry.

None of these “cards” were factual or true, of course.

Now Mr. McCain is apparently attempting to conduct a “surefire” typical republican Bush/Rove-type negative campaign against Mr. Obama (Mr. McCain is down in the polls). This time, the negativity is much more subtle.

Today was a very good example…whereby Mr. McCain used the “black race card” in such a subtle manner that it was hoped to make it appear as if he (Mr. McCain) never played the “card” at all! In other words, Mr. McCain was presented with the opportunity by Mr. Obama to make it appear as if Mr. Obama was using the “black race card” against himself! How absurd can one get!

Because Mr. Obama appears to be only black, one has a tendency to forget that he is just as white as he is black. Mr. Obama himself reiterates this fact often enough, by relating the story of his black African father and white American mother.

The unfortunate thing about absurd campaign rumors and the far more subtle “card playing” that we saw today is that these absurdities have a tendency to get votes from many in a voting electorate who are pathetically afraid of their own shadows, and therefore susceptible to such tripe.

In other words, there are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of voters who will believe anything (the vast majority of them white). If this were not true, Mr. Bush for instance would not still be sitting in the Oval Office at the White House. If this were not true, Mr. Bush would probably have never defeated Mrs. Richards in 1994.

If this were not true, Mr. McCain would have been the republican candidate for president against democrat Al Gore in 2000…and not Mr. Bush (with Mr. Rove at his side)!

OK Jack

P.S. Even as far back as 1988, the republicans very obviously and infamously played the “black race card” against democrat presidential candidate, Michael Dukakis, who was ahead of the republican candidate (George H.W. Bush) in most major polls.

Another subtle “card play” was the ridiculous and false association of the Britney Spears and Paris Hilton lifestyles with that of Mr. Obama. This republican campaign ad was very clever, i.e., leading the heretofore mentioned pathetically gullible white voters to believe that the visibly black half of Mr. Obama has even spent time “partying” with Miss Spears and Miss Hilton.

Even with all of the preceding tripe, Mr. & Mrs. Reader, Mr. Obama continues to lead Mr. McCain in most major polls. However, as with Mr. Dukakis and Mr. Bush’s father in 1988, the fear put into white (mostly male) voters by the “black race card” is generally not evident in the polls…but only in the actual vote on election day.

I’m sticking with my long standing prediction that there will be so many new voters in Mr. Obama’s corner, that they will cancel out the usual “stupid vote” by scared, white males who have been “carded” by the republicans.

John McCain is a national hero to my generation. he knows the reality of war!and can lead us out of this war with dignity.what has Oboma done think about this here is a jr.congressman no body has heard of than out of no where he pops up,says he has all the ansures, does he remind you of the pipiper!!!

Posted by steve miller | Report as abusive

As Obama continues to disappoint and looks more and more like the novice politician that he is and as the Democrats’ expectations for their naive Presidential candidate plummet back to earth, it’s reasonable to expect that both will start to lash out with excuses and blame McCain’s team for removing the shine from their dreams and throwing the dirt, just as Obama did today by bringing up race. Many of the bloggers here seem to be in some kind of Obamadenial about this fact, Obama is crafty, he’s trying to re-energize his base that has eroded while he has moved to the center. Obama has gone negative by constantly painting McCain with a Bush brush and he does this precisely because McCain is already a centrist candidate occupying the middle of America’s politics as he has consistently worked with Democrats across the aisle to reach consensus on many issues. Obama’s speeches remind me of lectures and finger pointing by Hollywood’s actors and actress’, he seems to be trying to guilt America into voting for him, while wagging his finger at the McCain camp, knowing full well he would get a response. However, rather than re-energize his base, I think Obama is proving that he is not the new kind of politician of change, he is just the same old cereal in the box now labeled new and improved taste. Unfortunately, this cereal is also more expensive for an America tightening it’s belt. McCain wins!

Posted by tommyc | Report as abusive

Has our country progressed so far that being half African American is an advantage? We can only hope that is true. Obama can no more change his ethnicity than McCain change the fact he was a POW. (Playing the hero card).

Posted by Greg Mulkey | Report as abusive

The McCain ad pairs images of two young, blond, attractive, white female celebrities – who also just “happen” to be promiscuous. Why choose precisely them? NOTHING is accidental in a 30 second ad. This is meant to waken the fears among low-information, middle-America white voters of sexually predatory black men, or AT LEAST to make them feel, on a visceral level, he’s really not one of us. And that, my friends, is what is “divisive, negative, shameful…”

Posted by julia Winiarski | Report as abusive

The entire (blog)is as artificial as Obama himself. The media is aiding and abetting Obama’s race baiting of “whites.” They (MSM) are too “chicken” to take that subject on that they duck and hide. So much for freedom of the press. Eventually, it will backfire.Obama words are revealing more and more of twenty-years of radical teachings, and friendships. He will sink his own ship and take the media down with him.

Posted by Elizabeth | Report as abusive

Obama is scary….he thinks he is the answer to all…the symbol for the WORLD to recognize… I look at it this way, y’all want higher taxes and a celebrity president? Then you know how to vote in November. McCain isn’t the great Savior either in my mind….but between the two we may have make a hard choice toward making sure our Country is protected and we move forward onto coming up with some type of Energy reform. i Think…think…McCain understands how to lead. Especially becasue of his Military record. God help us!!

Posted by Michael | Report as abusive

Well, as it turns out Obama’ own camp has said it…he was playing the race card!

Posted by D L Ennis | Report as abusive

When a presidential nominee resorts to negativity, it is a clear sign they have nothing to offer the American people and no real answers to his/her opponent. John McCain is running a campaign to be George Bush III, whereas Barack Obama is running a campaign to be the next president of the United States, the individual who will have to deal with the difficult situations created by eight years of an absentee president who let multimillion dollar corporations and a Republican Congress run the country as they saw fit. When I see Obama ads, they speak to me of what Obama plans to do to change the current course we’re on. When I see McCain ads, I see “stay the course,” or “don’t vote for that guy — he’s different.” McCain is an empty promise with nothing to offer the people of the United States.

Posted by Nina Kohler | Report as abusive

I started watching this blog because I thought it would be unbiased, but it is obviously biased in favor of Obama. Is that because of pressure from all the paid Obama bloggers?

Posted by Roger Thomas | Report as abusive

OBAMA IS A BLACK MAN. There, I’ve said it.

McCAIN IS AN OLD RICH WHITE MAN. There, I’ve said it.

Now, what about the issues??

Vote Obama, vote for freedom, vote for America!

Posted by Neal | Report as abusive

Obama, has twice now used the race card. In a talk in Florida he said, “oh, and by the way he is black”, in describing what he claims McCain would say about him. This is what he does to cover the fact that change is only a word he is using, but does not have a clue as to what he is supposed to change. Oh yeah, I know what change he wants to make. Change the oil in your car. Oh, do not forget to put the proper air pressure in your tires. I have one thing to say about that. I have put air in my tires, I got a tune up and gas is still $4 per gallon. McCain has said the wants off shore drilling to reduce prices at the pump. And economists agree this would help in the immediate future. McCain has talked about issues. All we hear out of Nobama is what he claims others will say about him.


Posted by Collin | Report as abusive

It is obvious that McCain is grasping after every little straw to discredit Obama’s presidential aspiration instead of grasping at the issues that are important to the American people. Obama is correct in mentioning the various things that McCain’s campaign will insinuate to demonize him. Everyone of us realizes by now that the adds that McCain’s campaign are using do not, for the most part address important issues like the economy, education, health care, energy cost and home foreclosures. What is obvious is that since Mccain does not have much of a solution to the problems which he helps to create, he is trying to focus on Obama to make the election a referadum on him. The referandum MUST be on the bush administration that has miserably failed the American people, an administration that is willing to spend more on Iraq, Pakistan and even Iran than on the American economy. McCain is trying to distract us from the real issues. This election people is not about Obama ‘IT’s THE ECONOMY AGAIN, STUPID’…

Posted by Max | Report as abusive

this is crap! obamas just trying to pull an 8 mile “jimmy smith” move by “dissing” himself so nobody else can! hes the one pulling the racecard by claiming race is an issue!

So, does this dll/article?AID=/20080802/CAPITOLNEWS/80 8020312

mean that it IS all about race with McCain’s campaign? Seems there was a McCain campaign event in Tallahassee today. Somehow, a reporter who had the proper credentials was singled out and removed from the media area–the only black reporter in the group. When a woman reporter in the group asked why he was being removed, she was thrown out, too.

Posted by Allison | Report as abusive

Mcain had been trying to paint Barack as different from the beginning . You remember how he added clinging to the constitution to the bitter comments. Barck never said constitution. He pretended that bearing meant age when he knew it meant direction or that Barack was saying Mcain has lost his course funny because it a nautical term(navy)so Mcain didnt misunderstand he lied to us. Last but not least Mcain said Hamas would be happy to see Barack win so would a couple of other tyrants. He said why is Barack ashamed of his name Barack isnt ashamed of his name just didnt want to be characterized a muslim due to his Arabic name. Futhermore many of us with anglo names are ashamed of our names Bernard etc . Mcains been playing on the differences(race card) the whole time.

Posted by ronny pierce | Report as abusive

I think it’s important to define the term being used. What exactly is “the race card?” Is it any mention of race at all? Or is it specifically the mentioning of race for the purpose of eliciting sympathy for the difficulties one has had? I think it’s important to distinguish between the different ways we can and should talk about race in this campaign. (Obama himself encouraged us to discuss our prejudices openly in his brilliant speech on race during the primary.) I don’t think he was mentioning his race in order to gain sympathy and votes; he was simply acknowledging that race is a factor in this campaign and that people should beware of how some Republicans would use it to play on prejudiced people’s fears and doubts.

Posted by Annette | Report as abusive

Once again, Mr. & Mrs. Reader, a thorough analysis of the McCain campaign and the identities/specialties of his behind-the-scenes advisors reveals that while this retired Navy officer is being overt about his personal honor as a member of Our Best & Finest…he is covertly sullying that honorable persona with gutter-based race-baiting from a 20-year old chapter of the republican playbook that Bush/Rove reportedly used on McCain himself in 2000, during the republican primary campaign.

Two wrongs don’t make a right…one of the oldest sayings in the book. The Christ-like republicans who have now labeled Mr. Obama as the antichrist of the “end of days” (e.g., Hal Lindsey), should be practicing Christ’s New Testament teachings, rather than repeating the Old Testament teachings of “anything goes”…or put another way, “Any gimmick or trick is fair in love, war and politics when the gimmick or trick yields success with the ‘stupid’ voting block.”

The whole thing is shameful.

In addition to G.W. Bush reportedly using race-baiting against Mr. McCain in 2000, the same chapter of the republican playbook was used on Michael Dukakis in 1988 (vs. G.H.W. Bush). Gay-baiting was used by G.W. Bush in 1994 to help defeat Ann Richards…thereby giving Mr. Bush a springboard to the presidential race of 2000.

OK Jack
Retired Army Officer


Interesting article, however it would be even more interesting to see the same kind of analysis if the black candidate was Colin Powell, or Condelza Rice. If the black candidate had more experience, and didn’t vote present over 100 times … was not so far to the left … did not propose such radical changes to our society, such as a socialistic agenda … did not have negative associations, such as 20 years tied to a Reverend Wright, and other radicals … Threw his close friend of 20 years under the bus for personal gain …did not have a Muslim name, father and step father, just 6 years after 9-11, and while America, and it’s allies is in the midst of constant attacks from murderous Muslim terrorists … was properly vetted from the beginning … did not enjoy such overwhelming biased favoritism from the media … did not arrogantly create his own Presidential seal … did not disrespect historical American institutions, and traditions, as a way of selling his Change message … did not use accusations of race in response to every opposing argument … did not flip flop on important issues … chose Hillarry as his running mate … as well as several other substantive factors.

Posted by Howard | Report as abusive