California Republican Groups in Hot Water Over Controversial Anti-Obama Campaigns

One used racist stereotypes to depict the candidate, the other drew comparisons with Osama bin Laden.

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SAN FRANCISCO—As their presidential nominee slips in the polls, some California Republicans can't seem to get out of their own way in their attempts to attack Barack Obama. A San Bernadino County Republican group apologized this week for distributing a newsletter that depicted Obama on a fake $10 food stamp along with images of a watermelon, ribs, and a bucket of fried chicken. The president of the group, a Republican women's organization that is not part of the state Republican Party, said she had never meant to link the Democratic presidential candidate with any racist stereotypes. "I never connected," Diane Fedele told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "It was just food to me. It didn't mean anything else."

The caption above the illustration read: "Obama talks about all those presidents that got their names on bills. If elected, what bill would he be on? Food stamps, what else!"

Fedele says she received the image in an E-mail. Believing it was a funny riff on Obama's comment at a campaign rally earlier this summer that he didn't look like the presidents on dollar bills—a statement some viewed as unfairly injecting race into the campaign—Fedele forwarded it to about 200 associates. Sheila Raines, a black member of the group, told the newspaper that she had told Fedele that the mailing was offensive. "This is what keeps African-Americans from joining the Republican Party," Raines said. "I'm really hurt. I cried for 45 minutes."

Fedele has apologized for the mailing. "It was strictly an attempt to point out the outrageousness of his statement. I really don't want to go into it any further," she said. "I absolutely apologize to anyone who was offended. That clearly wasn't my attempt."

The Obama campaign has declined to comment.

Earlier this week, a group of Republicans in Sacramento County stirred up controversy by posting a series of violent anti-Obama images on an official state GOP website. Obama was depicted in a turban and paired with images of Osama bin Laden, with a caption that read: "The only difference between Obama and Osama is BS." Below that were the words "Waterboard Barack Obama!" After briefly defending the image, the head of the Sacramento County Republican Party apologized. "Let's face it, I screwed up," Craig MacGlashan said. "At first, I did not realize how offensive the material was, and in the rush to move past it, I didn't take it seriously enough."

While state GOP leaders have roundly condemned both sets of images, calling them "hateful, stupid, and offensive," Democrats across the state say they are still disturbed by what they believe are increasingly crude representations of their party's candidate. The negative tone of the campaign came up during this week's presidential debate when John McCain was asked what his running mate, Sarah Palin, meant at a recent campaign rally when she said Obama had been "palling around with terrorists." The McCain campaign has released a series of TV advertisements trying to link Obama to Bill Ayers, a 1960s radical who was a member of the Weather Underground. Obama has denied having a relationship with Ayers, with whom he served briefly on an education-related nonprofit more than a decade ago.