The McCain campaign protests that it does not condone such behaviour and does not want to see it happen. But in the closely contested states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania, a campaign that had been confined to the internet is coming into full public view. One of the main things that the Obama campaign’s "Fight The Smears" unit have been battling are the false rumour that their candidate is Muslim.
At a 6,000-strong rally in Pennsylvania this week, as the two candidates on the Republican ticket waited backstage, a senior party member asked the crowd how they would feel about having a president with the middle name Hussein.
"Think about how you’ll feel on 5 November if you wake up and see the news, that Barack Obama - that’s Barack Hussein Obama - is the president-elect of the United States," said Bill Platt, the Lehigh County Republican chairman. The crowed booed, jeered and hissed at the very thought. Then another speaker, Peg Ferraro, denounced the Democratic candidate’s "background and affiliations", saying they were "questionable" and asking : "Do we know who his friends are ?"
The remarks were later condemned by the McCain campaign as "inappropriate rhetoric, which distracts from the real questions of judgement, character, and experience".
Yet the fact remains that - falling badly behind in polls and with dwindling amounts of cash to finance TV adverts - Mr McCain needs any ammunition he can find to break his rival’s momentum. He avoided attacking Mr Obama on a personal level at this week’s debate in Nashville but his running mate and Republican officials have been whipping up the party faithful.
When Mrs Palin accused Mr Obama of "palling around" with terrorists, in Florida this week, one member of the audience was heard to yell "Kill Him". And audience jeers of "terrorist", "bum" and "liar" peppered an address by Mr McCain in Pennsylvania.
Cindy McCain, in a departure from normally mild public remarks, has also cast aspersions on Mr Obama’s patriotism. "Let me tell you, the day Senator Obama decided to cast a vote not to fund my son when he was serving sent a cold chill through my body," she told the crowds.
The Democrat’s number two, Joe Biden, said such tactics were "dangerous", accusing Republicans of choosing "to appeal to fear with a veiled question : Who is the real Barack Obama ?"
Mr Obama is leading in swing states and the latest Gallup tracking poll gave him an 11-point lead nationally. He is also outstripping McCain in spending on advertising, paying $3.3m (£1.9m) for TV spots on Monday alone, compared to the Republican’s $900,000. So, while the Republicans attack Mr Obama, the Democrat can afford to counter-attack and promote his presidential qualities and personal narrative.
Mr Obama has noted that his rival shied away from attacking him in the same room during Tuesday’s debate. "I am surprised that, you know, we’ve been seeing some pretty over-the-top attacks coming out of the McCain campaign over the last several days, that he wasn’t willing to say it to my face."
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