October 13th, 2008
02:50 PM ET
14 years ago

McCain calls Lewis remarks 'outrageous'

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(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."

Filed under: John McCain
soundoff (191 Responses)
  1. WhiteWomenforObama'08

    The truth usually hurts.

    October 13, 2008 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  2. MATT

    Obama's supporters are getting hysterical.

    Why? Because he'll LOSE!

    I don't believe in one number of that polls. They're made from the media and serve only one purpose. Oprah.

    October 13, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  3. JB

    McCain apologized to Obama for last week but Obama does not have the decency to apologize to McCain about the comments of John Lewis. This is how Obama let thing happen in the primaries with no apologies to Hillary. Obama must agree with these racist tactics used be his supporters for polical gain.

    October 13, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  4. Atlian

    I lived thru the Wallace era and I can honestly say that last week I felt that same fear. I agree wholeheartedly with Lewis. And the main source of this hate mongering is Sarah Palin, the biggest example of poor judgment on John McCain's part that I have seen.

    October 13, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  5. young and informed independant WASP( woman against sarah palin )

    hengrem- the phrase is " cut off your nose to SPITE your face"


    October 13, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  6. georgia for Obama

    Lewis spoke truth. McCain lies more than Bush .

    October 13, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  7. Let it go


    October 13, 2008 05:44 pm at 5:44 pm |
  8. MJ

    Senator McCain you are outrageous. My eight year old has more sense than McCain. Today as she was walking in front of the TV she heard McCain say that Obama was lying. My daughter responded "get a mirror and you'll see who is really lying".

    October 13, 2008 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  9. Tayo, NY

    Well, McCain, you can't eat your cake and have it.

    You cannot sown hatred and reap goodwill.


    October 13, 2008 05:46 pm at 5:46 pm |
  10. Adriana Birmingham, AL

    I think Palin's remarks about Obama are outrageous. Lewis' remarks are pretty accurate.

    October 13, 2008 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  11. Catholic-mom-4-OBAMA


    What's more outrageous than the hateful crowds at Republican rallies, yelling "TERRORIST"!??

    What's more outrageous than the Palin speeches last week ALL week, inciting hate and fear by suggesting that Sen. Obama "dislikes his country so much that he would pal around with terrorists who targeted their own country?" THIS IS .......OUTRAGEOUS.

    How about some of the comments we read in these blogs last week? Some were downright SCARY. All incited by the Republican-hate-lie-fear-and-attack machine!

    McCain and the GOP are beginning to SEE that their tactics have backfired!

    Americans, REJECT the politics of hate,division,fear and lies!

    October 13, 2008 05:49 pm at 5:49 pm |
  12. Rose

    I think it is hilarious.. My parents and grandparents will exercise their right to vote for the first time in 34 years!! Thank you, McCain!! From your ignorant VP nomination to your hate messages, YOU have really ticked people off.. OBAMA will Take the Hoosier STATE .. YOU can pat Palin on the back for that one!! Oh, McCain, My Father's best friend died in a POW camp! Guess what??? He remains to be an officer and a gentleman. He is an AMERICAN, BLACK HERO!!

    October 13, 2008 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  13. KJL

    McCain seems to have a personality disorder. Everything makes him angry except fawning adulation.

    October 13, 2008 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  14. Indy2008

    This is for anyone questioning Baracks citizenship. I hate to bust bubbles but he is as much a US citizen as McCain. Born in Hawaii to an American citizen. Actually it is McCain who was not actually born on American soil. However, he was also born to American citizens which makes him American as well. Stop believing the false propaganda going around and research the facts.


    October 13, 2008 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  15. Irene

    McCain and Palin's remarks are the outrageous ones! They are comments that are meant to incite hatred.

    Is it the McCain campaign's plan to take questions from "potentially volatile" supporters at these rallies and have MR. MAVERICK step in to "save the day" by toning down what the person has said ???

    OBAMA / BIDEN 08

    October 13, 2008 05:50 pm at 5:50 pm |
  16. Noemi in Los Angeles

    No, McCain and Palin should be the ones to apologize for all their lies.

    October 13, 2008 05:51 pm at 5:51 pm |
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