ABC News’ Ron Claiborne, Teddy Davis, and Arnab Datta Report:
Speaking to a St. Louis radio station on Tuesday, John McCain said that Barack Obama’s recent suggestion that McCain does not have guts to raise the Bill Ayers issue to his face "probably ensured" that the former Weather Underground leader will come up in Wednesday’s final presidential debate.
"You have another debate coming up. The final debate. Many of your supporters are eager for you to confront Senator Obama on the Bill Ayers relationship in particular. Hillary Clinton even brought this up during the primary. Sen. Obama says you should have the guts to do it in person. So will you?" McCain was asked by KMOX’s Mark Reardon.
"Oh yeah," said McCain. "You know, I was astonished to hear him say that he was surprised for me to have the guts to do that. Because the fact is that the question did not come up in that fashion so–you know–I think he’s probably ensured that it will come up this time."
Listen to McCain’s KMOX radio interview here.
McCain’s indignation was provoked by Obama telling ABC News’ Charles Gibson last week that McCain was not willing to level the Ayers attack to his face.
"Well, 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," said Obama.
Watch Obama discuss the Ayers issue with ABC’s Gibson here.
During his Tuesday interview with KMOX radio, McCain said "it’s not that I give a damn about some washed up terrorist and his terrorist wife that on 2001 said they wished they’d bombed more. What I care about — and what the American people care about — is whether [Obama] is being truthful with the American people."
McCain, who has regularly distorted Obama’s tax record but is right in saying that Obama went back on his public financing pledge, went on to argue that Obama’s effort to downplay his relationship with Ayers is part of a broader reluctance to level with the public.
"Whether it be on raising taxes or whether it be his commitment to take public financing," said McCain "[O]r whether it be on his association with Ayers who he said was a ‘guy in the neighborhood’ when the fact is he launched his political career in Bill Ayers’ living room."
"So that’s the question," McCain concluded, "’are you being truthful with the American people?’ because they want someone that you can trust."
After interviewing a dozen people who know both Obama and Ayers, The New York Times wrote earlier this month that Obama has "played down his contacts" with Ayers. But the newspaper concluded that the two men, who worked together on an education project, do not appear to have been close, noting that Obama has never expressed sympathy for the radical views of Ayers whose bombing campaign he has labeled "detestable."
The Obama campaign reacted to McCain’s interview by arguing that it was a sign that he did not want to talk about the economy.
"Given his desire to ‘turn the page’ on discussing the economy, it’s not surprising that John McCainw ould want to spend his time talking to the American people about a thoroughly debunked attack that does nothing to help our families," Obama-Biden spokesman Hari Sevugan told ABC News. "That’s his choice. Barack Obama will continue to remain focused on solutions to the economic challenges facing the country."