Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat and veteran of the civil rights movement, says the negative tone of the Republican presidential campaign reminds him of the hateful atmosphere that segregationist Gov. George Wallace fostered in Alabama in the 1960s.
Republican candidate John McCain on Saturday called Lewis' remarks "shocking and beyond the pale."
The Obama campaign said the Illinois senator doesn't believe McCain or his policy criticism is at all comparable to Wallace and his segregationist policies.
In a statement issued Saturday, Lewis said McCain and running mate Sarah Palin were "sowing the seeds of hatred and division, and there is no need for this hostility in our political discourse." He noted that Wallace also ran for president.
"George Wallace never threw a bomb. He never fired a gun, but he created the climate and the conditions that encouraged vicious attacks against innocent Americans who were simply trying to exercise their constitutional rights," said Lewis, who is black. "Because of this atmosphere of hate, four little girls were killed on Sunday morning when a church was bombed in Birmingham, Alabama..."