(CNN) - As Barack Obama courted Jewish voters in Florida Thursday, John McCain looked to resurrect the controversy over the Illinois senator’s former minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright - who drew scrutiny earlier this year for comments he made in praise of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
The presumptive Republican nominee was responding to fallout over his decision to reject Pastor John Hagee’s endorsement, because of remarks that seemed to suggest Adolf Hitler had been carrying out God’s will because his actions drove many Jews to return to Israel.
“I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views,” said McCain in his statement rejecting Hagee’s backing. “But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual advisor, and I did not attend his church for twenty years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today.”
Obama immediately fired back, telling reporters McCain was unfairly implying Wright’s controversial remarks were somehow attributable to him.
“If you're in national politics, everybody you can find one or two people who have said offensive things, or done offensive things,” said Obama. “You know, John McCain is having to deal with… Hagee. Who said stuff that is mind-boggling.
“I don't attribute those statements to John McCain. Nobody thinks that McCain believes that stuff. And for McCain to then suggest that every single statement that was made by somebody is somehow attributable to me, is just wrong…. It's just not accurate.”
Obama visited a Boca Raton synagogue Thursday in a bid to shore up his support among Jewish voters, a crucial Democratic voting bloc. He stressed his support for Israel after a week of controversy over whether or not he would agree to unconditional negotiations with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel.
Obama said again that he disagreed with former President Jimmy Carter’s decision to meet with Hamas and would only sit down with the group if they renounced terror and recognized Israel’s right to exist.
“I want to just repeat this because I know that there’s a lot of rumor mongering going around. People have been getting e-mails non-stop,” Obama told the crowd. “That’s why I reject the attempts by some of my opponents in this campaign to distort my position…. As president, I will do everything in my power to help Israel protect itself from these and other threats.”
The Republican National Committee, looking to attract new support from this traditionally Democratic constituency, released a memo after Obama's synagogue visit that said his positions signaled that he was “anything but a friend” of Israel, including remarks about Palestinian suffering and his willingness to consider dialogue with nations hostile to the United States and Israel.