Waaay Off-Message

In the battleground state of Florida, one McCain official wonders if the man leading in the polls is actually Indonesian.

Stephan Savoia

In Florida, volunteers for John McCain’s campaign have been buzzing about a discredited rumor that Barack Obama is not a natural born United States citizen, but either Kenyan or Indonesian. That’s not surprising—the rumor has enjoyed a long life on the Internet. But now a McCain campaign official in Broward County, Fla., is indulging in the same fantasizing. Tim McClellan, the Northeast Broward County regional manager for the McCain campaign, told me on Friday that he has doubts about Obama’s citizenship.

“I have strong concerns that Obama is not a citizen,” McClellan said. “Did he go to Indonesia and become an Indonesian citizen? And if so, did he take steps to regain his citizenship?”

According to McClellan, Obama’s birth certificate—a copy of which has been independently verified by news organizations—is a forgery. McClellan pointed to a recently dismissed lawsuit by Pennsylvania resident and 9/11 truth advocate Philip J. Berg alleging that Obama is really a Kenyan citizen as evidence that the Democratic nominee will eventually be removed from office when the truth comes out.

“I suspect the U.S. Supreme Court will prove that Obama’s not a citizen,” McClellan said.

I asked McClellan if he was frustrated that McCain was not making the case that Obama is not a genuine American.

“Yes, and I think that’s true of a good majority of Republicans,” McClellan said, “You have to look at why more of it isn’t getting attention, though. The mainstream media is very liberal and the word doesn’t get out.”

"I have strong concerns that Obama is not a citizen," a McCain campaign official said. "Did he go to Indonesia and become an Indonesian citizen?"

Broward County, of course, was the battleground of the 2000 recount. But if McClellan was off-message in his campaign duties, he was hardly alone. Several volunteers at rallies this week mentioned the birth certificate issue, among other Obama conspiracy theories. Pamela Geller, author of the popular conservative blog Atlas Shrugs, even held a rally in Sunrise, Fla., on Friday to call on the Federal Election Commission to bar Obama from further campaign spending on the basis that he is not a natural born US citizen. Geller made news earlier in the week when she argued in a rambling 12,000-word essay that Malcolm X may be Barack Obama’s biological father. Politico reporter Ben Smith described the piece as the “frontiers of craziness.”

What was most fascinating about McClellan and other conspiracy-minded Republicans in Broward was that they did not seem to believe there was any conflict between their theories and the McCain campaign’s own claims. McCain himself walks a fine line when raising questions about Obama’s past (“Who is the real Barack Obama?”). His staff, it seems, is working overtime to fill in the blanks.

Benjamin Sarlin covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com. He is a graduate of Vassar College.