[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/11/art.johnlewis.gi.jpg caption="Lewis and McCain traded tough statements Saturday."] (CNN) - John McCain – who has often praised civil rights icon John Lewis – called a statement by the Georgia congressman Saturday comparing the outbursts at recent Republican rallies to the rhetoric of segregationist George Wallace “a brazen and baseless attack” that is “shocking and beyond the pale.”
Lewis issued his statement after several days of headline-grabbing anger directed at Democratic nominee Barack Obama by some attendees at McCain campaign rallies.
"What I am seeing reminds me too much of another destructive period in American history. Sen. McCain and Gov. [Sarah] Palin are sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse," Lewis said in a statement.
Watch: McCain defends Obama at campaign event
"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.
McCain has written about Lewis, praising his actions at Selma during the civil rights movement. The Republican nominee even said during a summer faith forum that Lewis was one of three men he would turn to for counsel as president.
But the Arizona senator blasted the congressman’s remarks, and called on Obama to repudiate them. "Congressman John Lewis' comments represent a character attack against Governor Sarah Palin and me that is shocking and beyond the pale,” he said in a Saturday afternoon statement released by his campaign.
(Updated with Obama camp reaction after the jump)
“The notion that legitimate criticism of Senator Obama's record and positions could be compared to Governor George Wallace, his segregationist policies and the violence he provoked is unacceptable and has no place in this campaign. I am saddened that John Lewis, a man I've always admired, would make such a brazen and baseless attack on my character and the character of the thousands of hardworking Americans who come to our events to cheer for the kind of reform that will put America on the right track.
"I call on Senator Obama to immediately and personally repudiate these outrageous and divisive comments that are so clearly designed to shut down debate 24 days before the election. Our country must return to the important debate about the path forward for America."
McCain himself seemed to be looking to calm frustrated Republicans Friday, telling supporters at a campaign rally that the Democratic nominee was a "good man," and that they had nothing to fear from an Obama presidency.
Update: Obama's campaign said he did not agree with the comparison made by Lewis - but did not repudiate the congressman's remarks.
“Senator Obama does not believe that John McCain or his policy criticism is in any way comparable to George Wallace or his segregationist policies," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton. "But John Lewis was right to condemn some of the hateful rhetoric that John McCain himself personally rebuked just last night, as well as the baseless and profoundly irresponsible charges from his own running mate that the Democratic nominee for President of the United States ‘pals around with terrorists.’
"As Barack Obama has said himself, the last thing we need from either party is the kind of angry, divisive rhetoric that tears us apart at a time of crisis when we desperately need to come together. That is the kind of campaign Senator Obama will continue to run in the weeks ahead."