NORFOLK, Va. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Wednesday accused Republican John McCain's campaign of using "lies and phony outrage and Swift-boat politics" in claiming he used a sexist comment against vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
Calling it "the latest made-up controversy by the John McCain campaign," Obama responded to the Republicans' charge that he was referring to Palin when he used the phrase "lipstick on a pig" at a campaign stop Tuesday.
"I don't care what they say about me. But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and Swift-boat politics. Enough is enough," he said.
Obama's reference was to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, an outside group that in 2004 made unsubstantiated allegations about Democratic nominee John Kerry's decorated military record in Vietnam.
In his initial comments Tuesday, Obama was delivering a dissertation about McCain and President Bush when he used the lipstick aphorism not Palin. In fact, his reference to the Alaska governor later on was a defense of her strong belief in religion.
The lipstick maxim is hardly new to either Obama or McCain. The Democrat has used it in the past, and McCain repeated the folksy metaphor when he criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on health care. McCain was never accused of being sexist when he uttered those words.
On Tuesday, Obama criticized McCain's policies as similar to those of President Bush, saying: "You can put lipstick on a pig. It's still a pig. You can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change. It's still going to stink after eight years."
The McCain campaign immediately jumped on the comments, arguing they were directed at Palin, the GOP's first woman on a presidential ticket. In her acceptance speech last week, she had referred to herself in a joke about lipstick being the only difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull.
Accusing Obama of "smearing" Palin in "offensive and disgraceful" comments, the McCain campaign demanded an apology. The McCain campaign on Wednesday issued an Internet ad that said Obama was talking about Palin and said of Obama: "Ready to lead? No. Ready to smear? Yes."
Obama's campaign has accused the GOP camp of engaging in a "pathetic attempt to play the gender card." The campaign noted two other instances of McCain using the phrase "lipstick on a pig" and its use by other Republicans such as House Minority Leader John Boehner and Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl.
With the fight dominating television news shows Wednesday morning, Obama responded before beginning a discussion of education at a Norfolk high school.
"What their campaign has done this morning is the same game that has made people sick and tired of politics in this country. They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of context, throw up an outrageous ad because they know that it's catnip for the news media," Obama said.
Later in the appearance, a supporter asked Obama how he was going to avoid Kerry's fate of allowing lies to undermine his campaign. Obama responded that every day he will hammer away at the issues that matter in Americans' lives and make the argument that McCain offers the same policies as Bush.
"This whole thing about lipstick, nobody actually believes that these folks are offended," he said. "Oh, we're shocked. Everybody knows it's cynical, everybody knows it's insincere."
McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers responded, saying: "Barack Obama can't campaign with schoolyard insults and then try to claim outrage at the tone of the campaign. His talk of new politics is as empty as his campaign trail promises."
McCain released a new TV ad Wednesday that suggests an Obama link to what the Web site FactCheck.org called "completely false ... misleading" attacks while failing to note that the source of the attacks were, according to the Web site, "Internet postings and mass e-mail messages," not the Obama campaign.