Sarah Palin was deployed by John McCain as his election "attack dog" at the weekend as the race for the White House entered its final month.
By Toby Harnden in Washington
Sarah Palin accused Barack Obama of 'palling around with terrorists who would target their own country' Photo: AFP / GETTY Mr. McCain's aides had kept Mrs Palin, 44, under wraps as much as possible, beginning to fear she might become a liability. But fresh from an assured performance in the vice-presidential debate, and with Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, surging ahead in the opinion polls, Mr McCain threw caution to the wind and ordered that Mrs Palin, 44, attack his White House rival repeatedly and ferociously.
Let off the leash on Saturday, Mrs Palin accused Mr Obama of "palling around with terrorists who would target their own country" in a reference to him once being a member of a Chicago community group with William Ayers. The former member of the Weather Underground was last active in the domestic terrorist group during the presidential candidate's childhood.
She added: "This is not a man who sees America as you see America and as I see America."
The Obama campaign responded that Mrs Palin's attack was "gutter politics" and other supporters suggested that the McCain campaign was merely trying to distract voters from the economy, on which Mr Obama is deemed to be more competent.
However, more worrying for Mr McCain is that her first pitbull-like assault on Mr Obama appeared yesterday to have backfired spectacularly as Democrats queued up to dish electoral dirt on Mr McCain.
They believe that John Kerry lost to George W. Bush in 2004 because he did not respond strongly enough to Republican attacks. But they do not intend to stand idly by this time.
Paul Begala, a leading Democratic strategist, said that Mr McCain had been on the board of a group for ultra-conservatives that was once condemned by the Anti-Defamation League as being a forum "for extremists, racists and anti-Semites".
"Now, that's not John McCain, I don't think he is that. But you know, the problem is that a lot of people know John McCain's record better than Governor Palin. And he does not want to play guilt by association or this thing could blow up in his face," said Mr Begala.
The Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel warned there was plenty of ammunition to launch against Mr McCain if the race soured further.
"If we are going to go down this road, you know, Barack Obama at eight years old somehow responsible for Bill Ayers. At 58, John McCain was associating with Charles Keating." Keating, a lawyer and banker, was jailed for his role in a savings and loan scandal in the 1980s.
Mrs Palin joked at the Republican convention that the difference between a hockey mom - a title she proudly proclaims - and a pitbull was just "lipstick".
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