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Democrat Barack Obama accused Republican John McCain of trying to divide the country Friday, but he let other Democrats handle harsher attacks while he kept his message mostly upbeat.

Speaking to an outdoor crowd in Chillicothe, Ohio, Obama said, “it’s not hard to rile up a crowd by stoking anger and division.” He said Americans want “someone who can lead this country” with a steady hand in a time of economic crisis, not divide it.

Echoing McCain’s “country first” motto, Obama said: “Now more than ever it is time to put country ahead of politics.”

Polls show Obama leading McCain in Ohio and several other battleground states, and he seems eager to keep his campaign on a steady, non-controversial course. As he has done for days, Obama criticized McCain’s economic plans and urged Americans to stay calm and confident amid the dramatic drop in the stock market.

He again did not mention McCain’s claim that he has associated with a former 1960s radical, William Ayers. When asked on a radio talk show, however, Obama said he thought Ayers, now a college professor and neighbor in Chicago, was rehabilitated.

Two high-profile supporters took sharper jabs at McCain before Obama came on stage on a sunny, cool day in front of the Ross County Courthouse.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland told the crowd, “the McCain-Palin campaign and some of their followers unfortunately want you to be afraid of Barack Obama.”

Ohio’s gun owners, Strickland said, “have nothing to fear from Barack Obama.” Nor do people who revere “family and faith,” he said, calling Obama “a strong Christian, family man.”

Internet rumors have falsely claimed that Obama is a Muslim.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, also criticized McCain by name, saying the GOP nominee learned his economic lessons from the Wall Street Journal’s conservative editorial pages.

Obama planned a rally in Columbus later Friday, his fifth Ohio event in two days.