Washington, Oct.7 : Barack Obama has decided to target John McCain for his role in the "Keating Five" savings-and-loan scandal as a rejoinder to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin questioning his ties to Vietnam-era radical William Ayers.
Attempting to link the early-1990s scandal to the current economic crisis, the Obama campaign launched a Web site devoted to "Keating Economics," including a documentary-style video of McCain's involvement and news clips of his Senate testimony.
A Washington Post report said that the Obama campaign also sent an e-mail to millions of supporters arguing that then, as now, the Republican lacks judgment on financial oversight during a crisis.
"With so many parallels to the current crisis, McCain's Keating history is relevant and voters deserve to know the facts -- and see for themselves the pattern of poor judgment by John McCain," Obama's campaign manager, David Plouffe, wrote in the e-mail.
At his own campaign event hours later, McCain sharply questioned Obama's character and intentions, telling a crowd in New Mexico that "even at this late hour in the campaign, there are essential things we don't know about Senator Obama or the record that he brings to this campaign."
"All people want to know is: What has this man ever actually accomplished in government? What does he plan for America?" McCain said. "In short: Who is the real Barack Obama?"
The back-and-forth, coming on the eve of a presidential debate tonight, represented some of the strongest language yet in a race that has grown increasingly negative and signaled that the final four weeks of the campaign could grow even nastier.
Palin kept up her attacks on Obama and Ayers at stops in Florida, saying, "This is about the truthfulness and judgment needed in our next president, and Barack Obama doesn't have it."
Raising the Keating scandal fulfilled a promise by the Obama campaign to revive the matter if they felt the McCain campaign ventured too far down the path of personal attacks.
Obama aides also said the current financial meltdown brought fresh currency to the savings-and-loan scandal, elevating it above an ordinary guilt-by-association charge. The collapse of Charles Keating's thrift cost taxpayers billions and required a large government bailout package.
The Senate Ethics Committee exonerated McCain in 1991 after a two-year investigation of whether he and four other lawmakers used improper political influence to protect Keating's failing savings and loan from regulation.
But the committee did fault him for exercising "poor judgment" in his dealings with Keating, an investor who gave McCain 112,000 dollars in contributions as well as lavish gifts.
Keating later went to jail for fraud, and McCain said the ordeal showed him the value of political reform.