Barack Obama on Wednesday took his first direct hit of the general election when he accepted the resignation of Jim Johnson, the head of his vice-presidential search committee, over allegations of impropriety.
By Edward Luce in Washington
Mr Johnson, who said he “would not dream of being a party to distracting attention from that [Mr Obama’s] historic effort”, had been accused of taking $1.7m in favourably priced mortgages from Countrywide Financial, a sub-prime lender that is part of a federal investigation.
The move follows mounting criticism of Mr Obama from John McCain’s campaign for alleged hypocrisy in calling for a politics free of special interests while accepting the services of people such as Mr Johnson. A former chairman of Fannie Mae, the Washington-backed jumbo mortgage lender, Mr Johnson was also alleged to have been a beneficiary of a rigged bonus payout in 1998 when none was warranted.
Mr Johnson, who was not paid by the campaign, was appointed only last week to head the search for Mr Obama’s running mate. The search will be continued by Eric Holder, the former deputy attorney general, and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of the late president.
“By entrusting this process to a man who has now been forced to step down because of questionable loans, the American people have reason to question the judgment of a candidate who has shown he will only make the right call when under pressure from the news media,” said the McCain campaign.
The Obama campaign, which was already embroiled in a war of words with its opponent over mutual allegations of ties to lobby groups, issued a statement pointing to the recent departure of several McCain staff for having links to – or being employed by – lobby firms.
It also targeted Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive of Hewlett Packard and Mr McCain’s chief economic adviser, for having laid off “thousands of workers” then receiving a $21m severance package. “We don’t need any lectures from a campaign that waited fifteen months to purge the lobbyists from their staff, and only did so because they said it was a ‘perception problem’,” it said.
Wednesday’s exchange highlighted two likely characteristics of the remaining 141 days until the election. First, both candidates are extremely sensitive to questions about their ethics since they both claim to represent a cleaner type of politics.
And second, the Obama campaign is proving itself nimble in response to snowballing problems. David Axelrod, Mr Obama’s advisor, has made a point of trying to avoid the mistakes of previous Democratic presidential campaigns, which included allowing problems to fester.
Mr Obama took less than 48 hours to disown his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, in April after he embarrassed the candidate in public. And he took only a few days in March to produce his widely praised Philadelphia speech on race relations after the Wright controversy first went national.