(CNN) – Sen. John McCain said Monday that Rep. John Lewis' controversial remarks were "so disturbing" that they "stopped me in my tracks."
Watch: McCain responds to Lewis
Lewis, a Georgia representative and civil rights icon, on Saturday compared the feeling at recent Republican rallies to those of segregationist George Wallace.
"That's not from some quote party official, that's from one of the most respected people in America. It's unfair. It's unfair and it's outrageous," he said in an exclusive interview with CNN's Dana Bash.
"I never believed that Lewis, who is an American hero whom I admire, would ever make a comment of that nature. He even referred to the bombing of a church in Birmingham. That's unacceptable," he said.
Lewis on Saturday said in a statement that McCain and Gov. Sarah Palin "are sowing the seeds of hatred and division."
"During another period, in the not too distant past, there was a governor of the state of Alabama named George Wallace who also became a presidential candidate. George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights. Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama," wrote the Democrat.
He later said that a "careful review" of his comments "would reveal that I did not compare Sen. John McCain or Gov. Sarah Palin to George Wallace."
A McCain aide described the moment that the campaign saw Lewis' comment as an emotional one, and a reality check as to "what the campaign is up against" when it comes to the thorny discussion over race on the campaign trail.
The senior advisor, who was with McCain, told CNN that they delayed the Republican nominee's flight to Davenport, Iowa, and got on a conference call from the plane with campaign manager Rick Davis and senior advisor Steve Schmidt to hammer out a statement.
McCain said Saturday that Lewis' earlier statement was "a brazen and baseless attack" and called on Sen. Barack Obama to repudiate it. McCain on Monday again criticized Obama for not condemning Lewis' words.
The Obama campaign said that Obama "does not believe that John McCain or any policy criticism is any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies" but said Lewis was "right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric."
McCain told CNN that Lewis' status as a respected politician makes his remarks even more unacceptable.
"I say when anyone says anything like that that is so beyond the pay, that it stuns me, because that's not what America and this debate should be all about," he said. "I will reject that kind of language, and again, I'm so disappointed in Congressman John Lewis."
Some McCain supporters have yelled out "treason," "kill him" and "terrorist" at recent campaign events.
Asked about the anger at his rallies - something that has increased after the McCain campaign starting highlighting Obama's ties to 1960s radical Bill Ayers, McCain said he was insulted by some characterizations of his supporters.
"There is always the fringe element that's in politics in America. The overwhelming majority of the people that come to my rallies are good and decent and patriotic Americans," the Republican presidential candidate said. "For anybody to emanate that the overwhelming ... 99 percent is anything but patriotic and good Americans is frankly unacceptable, and I won't stand for it."
The Obama campaign has recognized McCain's efforts to get his supporters to show respect.
McCain said Monday that despite trailing Obama in the polls, he's comfortable with where they are.
According to CNN's latest poll of polls, Obama is up by 8 percentage points, 50-42.
CNN's national poll of polls consists of six surveys: ABC/Washington Post (October 8-11), Fox News/Opinion Dynamics (October 8-9), Newsweek (October 8-9), Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby (October 10-12), Gallup (October 10-12) and Diageo/Hotline (October 10-12). It does not have a sampling error.
"We're going to be just fine. I have been written off on so many occasions by so many so-called pundits that it's hard for me to count," McCain said, joking that his campaign has "more lives than a cat."
"But the point is - we're doing fine. I'm happy where we're at, we're fighting the good fight. That's what it's all about."
whatever MCCAIN!!!! is it NOVEMBER 5th YET??
It hurts when someone character is being questioned, McCain and his unethical pitbull can throw out the S*#t but when the wind blows it back in their face they don't like it so much.
And where does Palin get off talking about lying and not being honest with the American public, when she has been charged with being unethical and abuse of power. Yeah, yeah she was within her right to fire the guy but it was unethical they way she did it for personal gains.
But the comments were right on the money, funny how the truth stings a bit huh McOld??
Time to put the PITBULL to sleep....
McCain should apologize for the vile campaign he has been running.
You know what's outrageous, Senator? That you've been all too willing to let radical messages of hate go unchallenged at your rallies.
If one of those nuts tries something against Obama, it will be on your head.
We Americans call the USA the Land of the "Free", Home of the Brave and have become an extremely diverse nation of immigrants. What does it say when McCain/Pitbull can spew lies about a fellow American and stir controversy to further their own agenda??? i.e. Obama & terrorist in the same sentence.
They appeal to the white folks who are afraid of having ANYBODY but a white person in the white office..just listen to their rally crowds WHEN will we have a President of Black, Asian, Latino or Italian decent???
The Time is Now!!!!
Did you even look at the ads you were running? Did you listen to the remarks your "followers" were spouting at your and Caribou Barbie's Klan rallies?
We were a lot more disturbed by those fascist images than Rep. Lewis' remarks, trust me!
Ahhh, the truth hurts, doesn't it McCain?
What McCain is distressed about is that his campaign's fear mongering was called out, and he was exposed. McCain may not have realized what he was doing – giving him a huge benefit of the doubt – but when the hate speech started at the rallies, they should have stopped it without someone having to warn them about mob mentality. Ugly is ugly, whether you intended it or not.
So...it was alright to suggest that Obama "pals around with terrorists" and it was alright to NOT say anything when people at your rallies shouted those hateful things, but it's not alright to campare you two to Wallace?
You mentioned that he was a respected politician....well...McCain...so were you...until you sold out to the Bush doctorine of campaigning and winning at any costs...talk about the pot calling the kettle...well...you know....
I totally agree with Rep. John Lewis, I don't even watch McCain and Sarah Palin. It's like they are living in the past with all the hate and deception. I know Their children must be very disturb to hear all the hate and lies. I wonder what their children are really thinking inside. Expecially the black little girl they adopted.
Makes me question did they adopted for the same reason he chose Palin as his running mate? (to be used)
What is outrageous is someone yelling "kill him" at a McCain rally, and McCain saying nothing about it. He should have immediately addressed this issue. What Lewis said is true – McCain and Palin are sowing seeds of hatred and division. Looks like the American people are not buying the foolishness that the McCain ticket is trying to spread. It's a shame that they cannot focus or speak to what people really care about – the economy.
Perhaps McCain would explain how his and Palin's remarks (and Palin's smiling approval when people in the audience shout "kill him") are NOT outrageous and inciteful of hate. I'm waiting (while crickets chirp in background)...
lewis speaks the truth, old man!!!!
you cant have it both ways, you wage a digustingly dishonest and dangeorus campaign and YOU have to live with its consequences. americans arepaying too much attention this election for those tired old republican tricks!
john mccain of 2000 and before is soooo ashamed of the hollow puppet you have become, selling your principles for the white house.
it's a very ugly, sad end to your political career, senator mccain. john mccain will go now go down in history as the angry man who was sooo depserate to be president he sold his soul to the devil, aka karl rove, et al...
THEY ARE DOING THAT. MCCAIN SAYS IT STOPPED HIM IN HIS TRACKS.
THIS MAN IS GONE OUT TO LUNCH. YOU ARE SO CRAZY MCCAIN YOU AND THE WITCH PAILN AND THATS WHY SHE GOT BOOED SO HARD SHE PROBABLY PEAD HER PANTS
No, Senator McCain, what's outrageous is YOUR racist supporters standing in line to attend a McCain/Palin event holding a stuffed Curious George Monkey toy with an Obama sticker on it's forehead and the idiot holding it saying, "This is little Hussein". McCain, you made your racist bed – NOW SLEEP IN IT!
No Senator McCain. Lewis is right and you are outrageous!
You are inciting hate and anger in your supporters and you had best ask God that it does not get out of control.
Your campaign has been pure hate and filth for weeks now and I am glad that Lewis had the courage to call you on it.
How about you VP and her ethics McCain? Your judgment is not sound and neither is your leadership. It is past time for you to pack it in and take Sarah with you.
Leave running the country to the reason and responsible people.
If Mccain/Palin rallies didn't resemble KKK/NAZI rallies then Rep John Lewis wouldn't have had to comment about them at all; would he??
Clean it up Mccain it's sickening.
What's outrageous is that McCain has not apologized for throwing his campaign into the sewer.
You might try and listen to what he's saying, rather than just getting angry that he's saying it Sen. McCain.
Admit that you've set these fires (even if you did not mean to) and that you want to stop it and you might go a long way to keeping some of your repuation.
Keep turning a blind eye to the real cause and you'll be branded as a spreader of hate for sure.
McCain you can't have our STATE! NO WAY NO HOW!
McCain's entire campaign can be described as "outrageous".
Which independent voters on the fence would look at McCain/Palin rallies and say to themselves "gee...that torch-wielding mob sure looks fun?"
Locking down the racist GOP base is a given with the BS McCain and Palin are stirring up.
Me thinks it won't play as well with the rest of America.....
PLEASE LET THIS THRU CNN
I AM 50 YEARS OLD I HAVE BEEN WORKING SINCE I WAS 16, I HAVE RAISED 3 KIDS AS A SINGLE FATHER. THE JOB THAT I AM WORKING AT NOW I HAVE BEEN WORKING AT FOR 18 YEARS WITHOUT NO VACATION OR NO TIME OFF I JUST BECAME PART OWNERS IN IT BECAUSE OF MY OWN HARD WORK AND THE GRACE OF GOD. NOW THAT I AM BEGINNING TO MAKE SOME MORE MONEY AND WANT TO GIVE MORE TO MY CHURCH TO FURTHER THE SPREAD OF THE WORD OF GOD OBAMA WANTS TO TAX ME SOME MORE.
The wording was strong and I think it was meant to shock Sen. McCain, however I too feel that some of his supporters were getting near the danger zone. The Sen. should have stopped this before it got out of hand, because now we see him saying, no don't say that, but the damage is done.
Sen. McCain's faux outrage is a little worn at this point. It is difficult for me work up any sympathy for him when he is still attempting to defend the "good and patriotic Americans" who attend his rallies. Rep. Lewis was absolutely correct is observing that Sen. McCain and his surrogates are creating a dangerous climate. He and his running mate should both know better.