Obama refuses to apologise for 'pig in lipstick' jibe as women switch to the Republicans in droves
The wow factor: Sarah Palin has energised the McCain campaign
Barack Obama was at the centre of a sexist smear storm last night after he was accused of comparing Republican vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin to a pig in lipstick.
The Democrat nominee angrily refused to apologise after he told a cheering crowd of supporters: 'You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig.'
See video of Mr Obama's speech below
John McCain's supporters immediately claimed he was making a direct reference to Mrs Palin because she had joked at the Republican convention last week that 'lipstick' was the only difference between a 'hockey mom' like her and a pitbull.
The row couldn't come at a worst time for the Obama camp as polls show women switching in droves to the Republicans, attracted by Sarah Palin's dramatic and historic introduction to the White House fray.
The McCain campaign called Mr Obama's remarks 'sexist, offensive and disgusting' and demanded an apology. - despite the fact that John McCain had used the same phrase in 2007 in reference to Hillary Clinton's healthcare policies.
They quickly put out an 'attack ad' claiming the lipstick jibe was clearly aimed at Mrs Palin and saying of Mr Obama: 'Ready to lead? No. Ready to smear? Yes.'
The advert included a recent clip of a TV news presenter observing that one lesson of the campaign was the 'continued and accepted role of sexism in American life'.
But the Illinois senator, angered at being pilloried for comments he believed were taken out of context, hit back at Republicans for stirring a 'made-up controversy'.
'Enough is enough,' he said. 'What their campaign has done is the same game that has made people sick and tired of politics in this country,' he said.
'They seize on an innocent remark, try to take it out of context, throw up an outrageous ad because they know that it's catnip for the news media.
'I don't care what they say about me. But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phoney outrage.'
Lies and outrage: Barack Obama speaks to supporters in Norfolk, Virginia
Democrat aides insisted Mr Obama was not taking a swipe at the 44-year-old Alaska governor, pointing out the 'lipstick on a pig' expression is common phrase used in U.S. politics to describe old policies dressed up to look new.
Mrs Palin, a mother of five, has energised the McCain campaign since being named as his running mate, spearheading a leap in the polls, a surge in volunteers and big crowds wherever she goes.
Despite Mr Obama's insistence last night that he meant no offence, Democrat strategists feared it could fuel the backlash over perceptions that he treated Hillary Clinton poorly during their heated primary campaign.
'Lipstick has been the buzzword of the campaign coverage ever since Palin mentioned it in her speech so to use the words pig and lipstick in the same sentence was incredibly na've,' said one party strategist. 'Whatever Obama really meant, an awful lot of voters are going to think that he was saying that Palin is a pig.'
Mr Obama, 47, drew the farmyard analogy while criticising Mr McCain's attempts to hijack his campaign theme of bringing change to Washington.
Popular: Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin signs autographs as she enters a campaign rally in Lebanon, Ohio
Speaking to a rally in Virginia, he said: 'John McCain says he's about change, too, and so I guess his whole
angle is, "Watch out George Bush". Except for economic policy, health care policy, tax policy, education policy, foreign policy. That's not change. That's just calling something the same thing, something different.
'But you know,' he added, 'you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. You know, you can wrap an old fish in a piece of paper called change, it's still going to stink after eight years.'
The McCain campaign was quick to capitalise on the pig blunder.
Jane Swift, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, said: 'As far as I know there is only one candidate in this contest who wears lipstick. It's clear to me that Senator Obama owes Governor Palin an apology.'
Both campaigns then went into overdrive to find past examples of their opponents using the phrase.
The Obama campaign swiftly circulated a 2007 article quoting Mr McCain using the term 'lipstick on a pig' in reference to a healthcare proposal from Mrs Clinton.
It was not the first time Mr Obama has used the phrase. He deployed it last year to describe the Bush administration's Iraq war strategy.
McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers hit back at Mr Obama last night saying: 'Barack Obama can't campaign with schoolyard insults and then try to claim outrage at the tone of the campaign. His talk of new politics is as empty as his campaign trail promises.'
See video of Mr Obama's speech here
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