COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — On the same day that John McCain and Barack Obama pledged to put political differences aside and appear together at Ground Zero for the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, the two campaigns were engaged Saturday in a flap over the American flag.
The spat began in this Republican stronghold at an airport rally for McCain and running mate Sarah Palin. Before the Republican presidential ticket took the stage, a radio personality emceeing the event announced that veterans were going to give the rally crowd thousands of small American flags that were discarded and rescued from Obama's massive Democratic National Convention rally at Denver's Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium.
The emcee, radio host Dan Caplis, told the estimated audience of 12,000 that the flags were going to be thrown away or burned, soliciting loud jeers.
McCain supporters said the flags were found by a vendor at Invesco Field after the convention. The vendor allegedly found trash bags full of flags in and around garbage bins, recovered them and gave them to the McCain campaign.
"We want to find good homes for these flags," Caplis said as veterans carrying plastic garbage bags full of neatly rolled flags distributed them.
When McCain and Palin took the stage to a sea of waving flags, McCain proclaimed, "I love those flags."
But the Democratic National Committee and Democratic convention organizers didn't. They said the flags were snatched — not discarded — from Invesco Field by the McCain camp.
"American flags were proudly waved by the 75,000 people who joined Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention," Karen Finney, a Democratic National Committee spokeswoman, said in a written statement. "John McCain should applaud that, but instead his supporters wrongfully took leftover bundles of our flags from the stadium to play out a cheap political stunt calling into question our patriotism."
Finney added: "On the same day he agrees to join Barack Obama at Ground Zero on September 11, John McCain attacks the patriotism of Obama supporters who so proudly waved the American flag at our historic event in Denver just days ago."
The McCain campaign stood by the story of how it obtained the flags and accused the Democratic National Committee and convention organizers of operating in "crisis control."
The flag flap took the luster off a rare joint announcement by the McCain and Obama campaigns that the Democratic and Republican candidates would stand side by side at next week's Sept. 11 anniversary event at New York's Ground Zero, where the World Trade Center stood before two hijacked jetliners sliced through the twin towers.
"All of us came together on 9/11 — not as Democrats or Republicans — but as Americans," the campaigns said in a joint statement. "In smoke-filled corridors and on the steps of the Capitol; at blood banks and at vigils — we were united as one American family."
"On Thursday, we will put aside politics and come together to renew that unity, to honor the memory of each and every American who died, and to grieve with the families and friends who lost loved ones," the statement continued. "We will also give thanks for the firefighters, police, and emergency responders who set a heroic example of selfless service, and for the men and women who serve today in defense of the freedom and security that came under attack in New York City, at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania."
But while politics may be set aside for a few hours next week at Ground Zero, the candidates continued their criticisms of one another Saturday.
Obama, addressing the "AARP National Life at 50+ Event and Expo" via satellite from New Jersey, told seniors that McCain is "not offering much change," would increase the cost of health insurance for many people and could jeopardize how much money people draw from Social Security.
He said Republicans failed during their convention to explain "how they plan to fix the economy they've ruined or help you live comfortably in your later years."
Tucker Bounds, a McCain campaign spokesman, accused Obama of trying to scare seniors.
"John McCain has always promised to fiercely protect Social Security benefits, and Barack Obama's willingness to recklessly misinterpret the facts to scare seniors for political points is the type of behavior that has ruined Washington and shows why Obama is the absolute wrong man to fix it."
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