Scraping for any advantage in the presidential race's waning days, John McCain and Barack Obama are introducing or reintroducing voters to a cast of characters.
McCain is spotlighting a former '60s radical and a corrupt government insider – both linked to his Democratic opponent. Obama is raising the GOP candidate's links to a disgraced savings and loan executive and a supporter of right-wing death squads.
Both are stretching the truth, at times, to smear by association. A look at the facts:
William Ayers: Forty years ago, Ayers was a founder of the Weather Underground, a group that claimed responsibility for a series of bombings, including nonfatal blasts at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol. He was a fugitive for years with his wife, Bernadine Dohrn. But after he surrendered in 1980, charges were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct. Eventually, he became a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, specializing in education reform and advising Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
In 1995, Ayers hosted a meet-the-candidate session at his home for Obama as he prepared to run for the state Senate. Later, the two worked with the same charity and social-service groups in Chicago.
Obama has tried to minimize his link to Ayers, at one point saying he was just a guy who lived in the same neighborhood. But while there was more to the relationship than that, there is no evidence they were close or that Ayers advised Obama. Obama has denounced Ayers' violent activities, which occurred when Obama was a child.
Charles Keating: Keating was a real estate speculator and savings and loan owner. His institution failed, costing many investors their life savings and sticking taxpayers with a $2.8billion bailout cost.
McCain received $112,000 from him, his family and associates, and traveled to the Bahamas at Keating's expense. McCain also took up Keating's cause with financial regulators who were investigating the businessman.
Keating eventually went to prison, and McCain got a mild rebuke from the Senate ethics committee. He repaid $112,000 to the Treasury and reimbursed Keating for the trips. He later called attending two meetings with bank regulators on behalf of Keating “the worst mistake of my life” and said it made him more sensitive to the need for government reform.
Antoin “Tony” Rezko: Rezko was a key supporter and donor throughout Obama's political career. Obama estimates Rezko raised $250,000 for his various campaigns, but not his presidential bid. The two were friends who talked often about politics and occasionally dined out together with their wives.
Rezko was convicted this summer on federal charges of using his clout with state government to squeeze kickbacks out of firms wanting to do business with the state. The charges don't involve Obama. Rezko now appears to be cooperating with a federal probe of corruption in the Illinois government.
Obama consulted Rezko, a real estate developer, before buying a home in 2005. Rezko ended up buying a vacant lot next door, then selling some of the land to Obama. But Rezko did not help Obama pay for his house, and the sellers say Obama got no special treatment.
As a state senator, Obama endorsed government support of a Rezko housing project for senior citizens. Obama aides say he was simply supporting a project that would help residents of his district, not doing a favor for a friend.
John Singlaub: A retired Army general, Singlaub founded the U.S. Council for World Freedom, which aided rebels trying to overthrow the leftist government of Nicaragua. That landed the group in the middle of the Iran-Contra affair and in legal trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.
The council was connected to the World Anti-Communist League, a group linked to former Nazi collaborators and ultra-right-wing death squads in Central America.
McCain served on the council's advisory board in the early '80s. He says he quit in 1984 and asked to have his name taken off the letterhead in 1986. Singlaub says he doesn't recall McCain resigning, but also says McCain was never active in the group and instead just let it use his name.
Rick Davis: McCain's campaign manager had financial ties to mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac almost to the time the government took them over last month. Meanwhile, McCain has accused Obama of taking advice from former executives of Fannie and Freddie and failing to see they were heading for a meltdown.
Davis or his lobbying firm have taken over $2 million directly or indirectly from the mortgage companies dating to 2000. In 2005, the lobbying firm began getting $15,000 a month from Freddie Mac, although sources told The New York Times the firm did little work for the money.