A speaker introducing Republican presidential candidate John McCain at a rally here Tuesday ridiculed Democratic contender Barack Obama for his intention to meet with “world leaders who want to kill us” and pointedly referred to the Illinois senator as “Barack Hussein Obama.”
Local conservative radio host Bill Cunningham went on to describe Obama as “a hack Chicago, Daley-style politician who is picturing himself as change.”
“When he gets done with you, all you’re going to have in your pocket is change,” he said.
McCain later condemned Cunningham’s remarks and apologized to Obama.
Cunningham’s introduction came before McCain had arrived at the rally of about 400 people in Hamilton County Memorial Hall.
The radio host told the crowd he’d had a dream about “Barack Hussein Obama’s wonderful life a year from today.” In the dream, he said, Obama was president and had just met with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and was set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Then, Cunningham said, Obama was going to “saddle up next to Hezbollah.”
“All’s going to be right with the world when the great prophet from Chicago takes the stand, and the world leaders who want to kill us will simply be singing [Kumbaya] together around the table with Barack Obama,” Cunningham continued.
Some members of the audience laughed, cheered and applauded during Cunningham’s remarks; others said they were embarrassed by them.
Speaking to reporters after the rally, McCain apologized for the remarks and said he took “full responsibility.”
“Any offense that was inflicted I apologize for,” he said, adding that he was outside the building when Cunningham spoke.
“Whatever suggestion was made that was in any way disparaging to the integrity, character [or] honesty of either Sen. Obama or Sen. Clinton was wrong, and I condemn it.”
Asked whether Obama’s middle name was an appropriate topic for discussion during the campaign, McCain said, “No, it is not.”
“I absolutely repudiate such comments, and again, I will take responsibility. It will never happen again,” the Arizona senator said.
Aides to McCain said Cunningham was invited to speak by local Republican officials who organized the event with the campaign. McCain said he had never met Cunningham, though Cunningham said he’d met McCain twice at Ohio events.
Beverly Weeks, a 59-year-old nurse who identified herself as an independent, said she was “mortified” by Cunningham’s remarks. “I’m . . . Cincinnati-raised, and to go up and make it comedy . . . " she said. “There were people around me . . . who were embarrassed, and some were even saying they wanted to get up and leave.”
Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said the candidate accepted the apology: “We appreciate Sen. McCain’s remarks. It is a sign that if there is a McCain-Obama general election, it can be intensely competitive but the candidates will attempt to keep it respectful and focused on issues.”
Cunningham attacked McCain on his radio show shortly after the rally, at one point saying he would vote for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“To have John McCain repudiate me when he didn’t hear the remarks at all. . . . He didn’t hear ‘em!” Cunningham said. “He just threw me under the bus to the national media.”