The latest slur against Obama keeps popping up in Iowa.

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Nov. 7 2007 6:21 PM

Dirty Obama E-Mail

The latest slur against Obama keeps popping up in Iowa.

BETTENDORF, Iowa—A scurrilous new e-mail is circulating about Barack Obama. Over the last few months there were the ones that suggested he was secretly hiding his Muslim faith. The messages suggest he refused to pledge allegiance this summer at a steak fry hosted by Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin.

Nutty rumors are always circulating about candidates. The Republicans spread their own in the run-up to the August straw poll. Usually campaigns can ignore them. To engage a made-up claim only gives it unwanted attention. What makes this one a problem is that it appears to have penetrated deeply into the pool of voters Obama is courting. They asked about the pledge at the first two town halls kicking off his five-day tour here. Since building support for the Iowa caucuses relies on word-of-mouth, rumors are all the more dangerous. Here's how Obama dealt with the issue:

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Tuesday night in Cedar Rapids, a woman stood, describing herself as "a mother of two small children trying to instill how important it is to be politically minded." As her young son stood behind her she asked about the e-mail charge, which she said had her son "very concerned."

Obama, who has already had to deal with a flap over wearing a flag pin, explained that the picture included in the e-mail was taken during the singing of the national anthem, not the Pledge of Allegiance. "I've been pledging allegiance to the flag since I was 3," he said. For that act of patriotism, he puts his hand over his heart, he said, but he doesn't do so when he's listening to the national anthem. (The U.S. flag code has a different view.) Regarding the woman's son, he said, "You let him know I'll come by his school and we'll say the pledge together."

In Muscatine on Wednesday, another woman asked about the pledge e-mail. This time, Obama, who was understandably exasperated, treated the question as ludicrous—as if someone had suggested that he's not black (which, come to think of it, they have). "I was taught by my grandfather to put my hand on my heart with the pledge and with the Star Spangled Banner, you sing, so that's what I did. ... I've been pledging allegiance since I was 3. I lead the pledge when I open the United States Senate. It's on C-SPAN."

John Dickerson is Slate's chief political correspondent and author of On Her Trail. Read his series on the presidency and on risk.

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