Sept. 15, 2008 -- The Obama campaign today accused Republican rival John McCain of distorting Barack Obama's record in a series of campaign ads that independent groups, the media and former Bush strategist Karl Rove say include unsubstantiated claims.
A new ad released today by the Obama campaign asks, "What's happened to John McCain? He's running the sleaziest ads ever."
Quoting from editorials and writers from Time magazine, the Washington Post, CBS, the New Republic and the Chicago Tribune, the Obama ad blasts the McCain campaign for running "dishonest smears" and ads that include statements "exposed as a lie."
The Obama ad concludes, "It seems 'deception' is all he's got left."
The Obama campaign today highlighted comments by former Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who said McCain and Obama should stop the negative attacks.
"McCain has gone, in some of his ads, similarly gone one step too far in sort of attributing to Obama things that are, you know, beyond the 100-percent truth test," Rove told "Fox News Sunday."
"Both campaigns are making a mistake, and that is they are taking whatever their attacks are and going one step too far," Rove said. "They don't need to attack each other in this way."
The McCain campaign has come under fire for an Internet ad that accuses Obama of calling Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin "a pig."
In fact, Obama last week likened the Republican ticket plans for government reform to putting "lipstick on a pig."
Even the Arizona senator admitted today that Obama didn't call Palin a pig, but defended the ad anyway.
Obama "chooses his words very carefully," McCain told reporters today in Florida, after saying "no" when asked if he thought Obama called Palin a pig.
"He's very eloquent," McCain said. "It was the wrong thing to say."
The Obama campaign has also complained about a McCain ad that claims the Illinois senator supports sex education for kindergartners, referring to Illinois Senate legislation that would teach young children age-appropriate sex education and how to reject advances by sexual predators.
The ad has been widely criticized by independent groups and longtime journalists.
Reporter Jonathan Alter, Newsweek's senior editor and columnist and author of the book "Between The Lines: A View Inside American Politics, People and Culture," said the tenor of McCain's ads have reached a new low in the seven presidential campaigns he's covered.
"The latest one accuses Obama in the Illinois legislature of supporting sex-ed for kindergartners, which is a total lie about the nature of that piece of legislation in Illinois, to me it set a new low," Alter said on "Charlie Rose" Thursday.
Noting such attacks usually come from third-party or so-called "527" groups, Alter said "these are the first lies that I have ever seen that come directly from one candidate in a presidential election."
Democrats Launch 'Count the Lies' Web Site
Democrats today also launched a new Web site called "Count the Lies," arguing McCain has made 51 false claims that have been found to be false by independent groups like FactCheck.org and mainstream news media organizations.
"It's basically taking what had normally been sort of a hidden sort of politics, opposition research, and putting it on the Web site for our activists and voters and volunteers to see and use it as they need, so as people are going door-to-door talking to their neighbors, they have at their disposals, at their fingertips , John McCain's real record," Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera told ABCNews.com.
Obama today pointed to TV spots against Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., during the 2004 presidential campaign by a third-party group with Republican ties called "Swift Vote Veterans for Truth," attacking Kerry's Vietnam record with claims proven to be false.
Republicans, Obama said today, in the past had turned "an entire campaign into a debate about Swift Boats and wind surfing. And what do you get when it's over?" Obama asked, while campaigning at the Cross Orchards Historic Site in Grand Junction, Colo.
"Iraq," Obama said. "Katrina. And a meltdown on Wall Street. And a million people without jobs or homes or health care.
"Enough," Obama continued. "Enough of this. We can't afford to let them make another big election about small things... We are up against a very powerful entrenched status quo in Washington. They will say anything and they will do anything."
Biden Slams McCain Ads as Bush-Rove-Like Tactic
Campaigning in Michigan today, Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden tied McCain's recent attack ads to President George W. Bush and his 2000 and 2004 election mastermind, Rove.
"The campaign a person runs says everything about the way they'll govern," Biden told a crowd in Saint Clair Shores, Mich.
"The McCain-Palin campaign has decided to bet the house on the politics perfected by Karl Rove. Those tactics may be good at squeaking by in an election, but they are bad if you want to lead one nation, indivisible ...
"When Sen. McCain was subjected to unconscionable, scurrilous attacks in his 2000 primary campaign, I called him on the phone to ask what I could do. And, now, some of the very same people and the tactics he once deplored, his campaign now employs."
Obama defended a recent campaign ad that highlighted McCain's admission that he doesn't use computers and doesn't use e-mail.
When asked by ABC's Chris Cuomo today if the ad was a sly shot at his Republican rival's 72 years of age, Obama defended the ad.
"I didn't say that," Obama told Cuomo on "Good Morning America."
"What I said was ... that John McCain is out of touch.
"If we're going to ask questions about, you know, who has been promulgating negative ads that are completely unrelated to the issues at hand, I think I win that contest pretty handily."
Third-Party Groups Ready With Ads
Third-party groups, or so-called 527 groups, were given even greater latitude after a 2007 Supreme Court opinion that loosened restrictions on unions and corporations, allowing them to launch last-minute attack ads.
By a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court ruled that the constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech allow these groups, named after the section governing them in the IRS tax code, to purchase "issue advocacy advertising."
A new group with ties to the Swift Boast Veterans for Truth campaign against Kerry has amassed a multimillion-dollar fund and is putting the finishing touches on television ads attacking Obama.
The group, known as the American Issues Project, brags it has run ads 7,307 times in 14 markets, calling into question the longstanding relationship between Obama and William Ayers.
"American Issues Project clearly has struck a nerve inside the Obama campaign, but even more important is the reaction of the American people, who are starting to question why Senator Obama would have such a close relationship with an unrepentant domestic terrorist," said Ed Martin, American Issues Project president, on the group's Web site.
On the Democratic side, the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is running a television ad in the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Mexico, Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa that links McCain to the nation's struggling economy.
An announcer says in the SEIU ad, "John McCain said 'I know a lot less about economics. I still need to be educated.' No wonder he said we're better off than we were eight years ago. It's time for change."
Negative Ads Routine in Presidential Politics
While Americans routinely tell pollsters they don't like negative attack ads, presidential candidates continue to use them for one reason: they work.
"An effective negative ad can be powerful in changing the public's perception about a candidate," said John Geer, political science professor at Vanderbilt University and author of "In Defense of Negativity," a book about campaign attack ads.
Geer argues the content of negative ads are often more informative to voters about the candidates' records than positive ads with vague assertions touting a candidates' character or leadership skills.
One of the most memorable ads in presidential politics was Lyndon Johnson's 1964 "Daisy Ad" depicting a little girl picking daisies in a field before a nuclear blast to warn against Republican Barry Goldwater's foreign policy positions during the Vietnam war.
Goldwater lost by a landslide. Equally effective was former President George H. W. Bush's "Willie Horton" attack ad painting Michael Dukakis as weak on violent crime.
Geer says negative ads have only intensified in the digital age, allowing campaigns to create an ad and not have to actually purchase expensive television air time for it to get into the public debate.
"The news media give coverage to these more negative campaign ads because they're the ones that get attention," Geer said.
But Geer said negative ads could also backfire.
"The McCain ad suggesting Obama wants to give sex education to kindergartners is pushing the envelope," Geer said, "and it's being shown to be not true."
McCain's negative ads coincide with a more streamlined campaign strategy ushered in by McCain's chief strategist Steve Schmidt, known as "The Bullet" for his shaved head, who is a Rove protege.
Attack ads could also have the unintended side effect of turning off an already cynical American electorate to the presidential campaign.
Geer said the 2008 presidential election campaign has gotten particularly nasty early on.
"I am struck by how much both sides are putting up negative ads this early in the campaign," Geer said.
ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.