Barack Obama was asked about Hamas at a press availability yesterday, although the media accounts did not mention it. The transcript contains this exchange:

Q: The other night John McCain suggested Hamas was a big supporter, and he would be their biggest nightmare?

BO: Well I actually responded to it fairly explicitly the other day. What I said was that this was ridiculous, that my position with respect to Hamas was identical to John McCain’s. That I’ve said we should not meet with them until they recognize Israel, until they cease terrorist activities, until they support previous agreements that have been made between the Palestinians and the Israelis. And I went on to say that this was an example of I think a distorting of my record that John McCain has been engaging in over the last couple of weeks, that again is not consistent of the image or what he said he wants this campaign to be about. I suggested he maybe lost his bearings. His team somehow took this as an ageist comment. How that was interpreted in that fashion is still not clear to me. Last I checked people lose their bearings at every age, but as I’ve said before: I think that Hamas is a terrorist organization that should be isolated until such time as they recognize that terrorism is not a strategy is not a strategy for them to obtain their political goals.

Alas, no one saw fit to ask about Robert Malley’s meetings with Hamas. (Malley is the foreign-policy adviser Obama just let go.) Nor did reporters push Obama on the issue that started this discussion and that Obama is studiously avoiding: Hamas’ endorsement.

It’s fine and well for Obama to say in a general election setting that Hamas is a terrorist organization, but John McCain’s central point is correct: Hamas endorsed Obama. It is worth considering why. Is it because he favors direct, presidential talks with Hamas’ sponsor Iran.? Or because Hamas sees him as lacking resoluteness or as excessively sympathetic to the Palestinian cause? And it’s not as if Hamas is an isolated case of fringe groups and individuals favoring Obama.

The issue did come up in the Meet The Press roundtable. To his credit, Tim Russert repeated the basic facts of the Hamas endorsement. However, because the McCain team chose to respond last week by pouncing on the “lost his bearings” comment by Obama, the MTP conversation quickly digressed into the age issue. No mention was made of Malley’s meeting with Hamas. Jerry Seib did manage to work in this observation:

We’ve seen in our Wall Street Journal/NBC News polling all year, the one area where Republicans can still claim an advantage is national security and military affairs. The McCain people are going to go at that time and time again, and that’s why John McCain jumped on the Hamas statement so quickly.

So the bottom line: if the Hamas issue and Obama’s general popularity with fringe international groups are issues which the McCain team believes are relevant and helpful it will be up to them to articulate the issues (without diverting the attention of the press to McCain’s age or other unhelpful topics) and push Obama to answer.

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