Aug. 1, 2008— -- Sen. Barack Obama's chief strategist conceded that the Democratic presidential candidate was referring to his race when he said Republicans were trying to scare voters by suggesting Obama "doesn't look like all those other presidents on the dollar bills."
The comment had triggered a charge Thursday from Sen. John McCain's campaign manager that Obama had "played the race card... from the bottom of the deck."
Obama's camp initially denied the remark was a reference to Obama's race.
Obama is poised to become the first black man to be the presidential nominee of a major political party when he claims the Democratic nomination on Aug. 28 -- the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
"He was referring to the fact that he didn't come into the race with the history of others," Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs said Thursday. "It is not about race."
But Obama's chief strategist, David Axelrod, acknowledged on "Good Morning America" Friday that the candidate was referring, at least in part, to his ethnic background.
When pressed to explain the comment, Axelrod told "GMA" it meant, "He's not from central casting when it comes to candidates for president of the United States. He's new to Washington. Yes, he's African-American."
That seemingly obvious reference sparked the first real fireworks between the two camps as backers of both candidates accused the other of trying to subtly inject race into the presidential contest.
The tension between the campaigns was escalated by a new McCain attack ad released earlier this week that mocked Obama as a celebrity like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.
Axelrod lashed out at McCain for airing the ad, saying it was "insulting… to the American people."
"It's beneath Sen. McCain," Axelrod told "GMA", referring to McCain's pledge to run a respectful campaign. "What happened to John McCain? What happened to the campaign he promised to run?"
McCain campaign manager Rick Davis, however, said he was delighted with the "celebrity" commercial.
"I think the ad is a great ad. I think it's getting a lot of attention which was what it was designed to do," Davis said on "Good Morning America."
He called the furor over the ad "much ado about nothing. Everybody's talking about it and we're having a great time with it."
But Davis talked tough when it came to any suggestion that McCain employed a racist tactic.
"I will not allow anyone in this campaign to attack John McCain on race. It's never happened before, and it never will again," Davis said.
The Obama campaign made clear Thursday that they did not believe McCain was using Obama's race, but accused the Republicans of "low road politics."