WASHINGTON Democrat Barack Obama on Thursday accused Republican John McCain of "losing his bearings" over a foreign policy issue, sparking countercharges that he is making McCain's age an issue in the U.S. presidential campaign.
Obama, 46, was asked about a recent comment by McCain, 71, that the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas favors Obama for president.
"I think (this) is unfortunate, particularly since my policy toward Hamas has been no different than his," Obama said on the CNN program "The Situation Room."
"And so for him to toss out comments like that I think is an example of him losing his bearings as he pursues this nomination," he said.
McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, turns 72 in August and would be the oldest first-term president.
The McCain campaign said Obama, a first-term senator from Illinois who leads Hillary Clinton in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, was hinting at something when he used the words "losing his bearings."
It was "a not particularly clever way of raising John McCain's age as an issue," said Mark Salter, a McCain adviser, in an e-mailed statement.
"It is important to focus on what Senator Obama is attempting to do here," Salter added. "He is trying desperately to delegitimize the discussion of issues that raise legitimate questions about his judgment and preparedness to be President of the United States."
An Obama campaign spokesman shot back: "Clearly losing one's bearings has no relation to age, given this bizarre rant that Mark Salter just sent out."
(Editing by Xavier Briand)
(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/ )