CNN:

Sen. John McCain distanced himself Monday from comments made by a senior campaign adviser suggesting that McCain would stand to benefit politically from a terrorist attack on U.S. soul.

In an interview with Fortune magazine, McCain senior adviser Charlie Black said that the Arizona senator demonstrated his fluency in foreign policy and security matters following the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December of last year.

Bhutto’s killing, Black said, was an “unfortunate event.” But, he argued, McCain’s “knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who's ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us."

Asked if McCain would stand to benefit from a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Black answered: “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him.”

Campaigning in California, McCain shook his head when asked by CNN about Black’s comments.

“I cannot imagine why he would say it,” he said at a press conference. “It’s not true. I’ve worked tirelessly since 9/11 to prevent another attack on the United States of America. My record is very clear.”

It wasn't so long ago that Democrats hestitated even to accuse Republicans of using security-related scare tactics, lest they seem whiny and weak. Now John McCain feels the need to distance himself from one of his own aides, who was only responding to a press question. Not that that's an excuse. (Actually, McCain's statement is doubly odd--he answered as though Black had implied McCain was somehow encouraging an attack, which was not at all his point....)

P.S. Do we assume it's true that a big attack would help McCain? I think a lot depends on the particulars. Another failure of the homeland-security bureacracy would further discredit Republicans. An attack clearly linked to anger over the Iraq war could also hurt. There's no way to know in advance; but here's hoping it's all hypothetical anyway.

Update, 5:45pm: Obama campaign statement:

“Barack Obama welcomes a debate about terrorism with John McCain, who has fully supported the Bush policies that have taken our eye off of al Qaeda, failed to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, and made us less safe.  The fact that John McCain’s top advisor says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a ‘big advantage’ for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change. Barack Obama will turn the page on these failed policies and this cynical and divisive brand of politics so that we can unite this nation around a common purpose to finish the fight against al Qaeda,” said Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton. 

--Michael Crowley