Barack Obama's campaign on Thursday tried to fend off a withering attack from his opponents surrounding the Democratic candidate's relationship with former domestic terrorist William Ayers, co-founder of the radical Weather Underground group in the turbulent Sixties.
But there are still questions over when Obama truly learned about Ayers' radical background.
Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor told FOXNews.com that the Democratic presidential candidate was unaware of Ayers' past when Ayers hosted a political event for Obama in 1995, when he was an Illinois state senator.
Vietor said it was a small, meet-the-candidate event -- an assertion Obama and his advisers have consistently made throughout the course of his presidential campaign.
But Vietor said that he did not know when Obama learned of Ayers' connection to the Weather Underground, which claimed responsibility for bombings at the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol and a New York Supreme Court justice's home in New York City.
Obama has been criticized for not being clear on exactly when he was informed of Ayers' terrorist past, and for maintaining a working relationship with Ayers, who lives in Chicago and is an education professor at the University of Illinois.
Questions were raised during an interview with Time Magazine on Wednesday when Obama's communications director, Robert Gibbs, appeared to waffle on the issue, saying: "I don't know when Barack Obama found out, I don't know at what point. It's something that I would be more than happy to ask him."
Vietor said Gibbs' comments were not meant to suggest that Obama might have known about Ayers' extremist past.
On Tuesday Gibbs was first asked if Obama knew Ayers was a terrorist at the meet-and-greet at Ayers' home. "The answer is still [that] he didn't," Gibbs said. "And that's what [David Axelrod, another spokesman] said yesterday."
On Thursday, the McCain campaign continued to seize on Obama's association with the Ayers by launching a 90-second Web video that accuses the Democratic candidate of hiding his true relationship with Ayers.
"They've worked together for years," the narrator in the ad states. "But Obama tries to hide it. Why? Obama launched his political career in Ayers' living room. Ayers and Obama ran a radical education foundation together."
"Barack Obama should put an end to the lingering questions that Americans have about his associations with Bill Ayers," said Republican strategist Margaret Hoover.
"That he won't only increases our suspicion that he is trying to hide the fact that he has had ongoing associations -- whether through positively reviewing Bill Ayers' book, by continuing to serve on boards with him, though interactions at the University of Chicago -- with an unrepentant terrorist," Hoover said.
Obama has said that the McCain campaign's focus on Ayers is an effort to "score cheap political points" in the final weeks before the election, and other Democrats have charged that McCain and Sarah Palin's discussion of Ayers is an attempt to smear their opponent's character and distract voters from issues like the economic crisis.
"If John McCain really thought that this was a real issue, then why didn't he bring it up in the real debate with Barack Obama?" former Clinton spokeswoman Maria Cardona said Thursday on FOX News.
"They have absolutely no real message and nothing to say on the economy. It says much more about their judgment than it does Obama's," Cardona said.
Obama -- who has repeatedly condemned Ayers' past -- acknowledges that he served with the onetime terrorist on a school reform board in Chicago.
In an interview with ABC on Wednesday, Obama noted that the school reform board was funded by Walter Annenberg, an ambassador and close friend of former President Ronald Reagan.
Yet Obama said that he has made clear many times that Ayers "engaged in some despicable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old" and that he was an education professor at the University of Illinois when they met 10 or 15 years ago.
"The notion that somehow he has been involved in my campaign, that he is an adviser of mine, that he -- I've palled around with a terrorist, all these statements are made simply to try to score cheap political points," Obama said.
"And, you know, the idea that the McCain campaign would want to make this the centerpiece of the discussion in the closing weeks of a campaign where we are facing the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and we're in the middle of two wars, I think makes very little sense not just to me but to the American people," Obama said in the interview.
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