CLEARWATER, Fla. (AP) - Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin expanded her attack on Democrat Barack Obama's character Monday to include his relationship with an incendiary former pastor as well as his ties to 1960s-era radical Bill Ayers.
In the process, Palin toned down her description of the Obama-Ayers relationship after her weekend remarks were criticized as exaggerated, but at the same time she embarked on a discussion of Obama's relationship with his former paster, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., which Republican presidential candidate John McCain had signaled he did not want to be a part of his campaign.
In an interview with conservative The New York Times columnist William Kristol published Monday, the Alaska governor said there should be more discussion about Wright, Obama's pastor of 20 years at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. The Democratic candidate denounced Wright and severed ties with the church last spring after videotapes surfaced showing Wright making anti-American and anti-Semitic comments from the pulpit.
Wright had appeared to be off limits for the McCain campaign ever since McCain himself condemned the North Carolina Republican Party in April for an ad that called Obama "too extreme" because Wright was his pastor. He asked the party to take down the ad and said, "I'm making it very clear, as I have a couple of times in the past, that there's no place for that kind of campaigning, and the American people don't want it."
When Kristol pressed Palin about Wright, she replied, "I don't know why that association isn't discussed more, because those were appalling things that that pastor had said about our great country."
She continued, "To me, that does say something about character. But, you know, I guess that would be a John McCain call on whether he wants to bring that up."
At a morning rally in Florida, Palin kept up her criticism of Obama's ties to Ayers, a founder of the violent Weather Underground group blamed for several bombings during the Vietnam War era, when Obama was a child.
The Illinois senator has denounced Ayers' radical views and activities.
"This is someone who sees America as 'imperfect enough' to work with a former domestic terrorist who targeted his own country," Palin said of Obama. That was a tamer description than Palin used at rallies in California and Colorado over the weekend.
In her earlier attacks, Palin had said that Obama "pals around with terrorists." News reports pointed out that Obama was eight years old at the time of Weather Underground bombings and that the two men do not know each other well although they live in the same Chicago neighborhood, have served on a charity board together and Ayers hosted a meet-the-candidate event when Obama first ran for state office in the mid-1990s.
Palin was spending two days in Florida, which President Bush won easily in 2004 but has become competitive this time.