McCain's Religion Gambit Draws Quick Backlash in New York

By Hallow, Ralph Z. | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

McCain's Religion Gambit Draws Quick Backlash in New York


Hallow, Ralph Z., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


John McCain's rebuke Monday of Christian conservatives - whom he compared to Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton - is already hurting him in the key primary state of New York.

John Zogby, a Utica, N.Y.-based pollster without ties to any presidential candidate, said Mr. McCain's 16-point lead over Texas Gov. George W. Bush among Roman Catholic voters as recently as last Saturday has been eliminated. Roman Catholics make up about 45 percent of the state's Republican primary electorate.

"We actually have Bush pulling ahead among Catholics by a few points - enough to make it a trend - still a statistical dead heat but a tremendous turnaround among Catholics," Mr. Zogby said.

Religious leaders and Christian conservatives throughout the country said yesterday that Mr. McCain's rebuke will have serious consequences - some of which are already beginning to appear. "The backlash already is beginning," said Deal Hudson, editor and publisher of Crisis, a magazine of politics, culture and the Catholic Church.

"McCain has made himself a demagogue in implying Bush associated with anti-Catholic bias. He is creating a division among traditional allies, including religiously active Catholics and evangelical Christians," Mr. Hudson told The Washington Times.

In Virginia - where Mr. Bush soundly defeated Mr. McCain in yesterday's primary - churchgoers rejected Mr. McCain and his attack on the Christian Coalition when they went to the polls.

Many voters, particularly in the Virginia Beach and Chesapeake areas, known as the heart of Christian Coalition territory, said they cast their votes for Mr. McCain's rivals - including Alan Keyes - to show their disappointment with Mr. McCain's remarks.

"The man is an idiot," said Bruce Macdonald, a Chesapeake resident who voted for Mr. Keyes.

"You've got to wonder if he meant what he said. He went from someone people weren't really sure about to someone people can't trust," added Mr. Macdonald, who is a member of the New Life Christian Fellowship.

Bill Miles, executive director of the Virginia Christian Coalition, said yesterday Mr. McCain's remarks angered many voters who believed the senator "went out of his way to be nasty."

"A lot of the voters are ticked off," said Mr. Miles, who visited several polling places in Virginia Beach. "Many of them believe his remarks were unnecessary and mean-spirited. That will definitely show in the numbers - particularly in Pat [Robertson's] home court."

Even Mr. McCain's biggest campaign asset when it comes to religious conservatives, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, yesterday criticized Mr. McCain over his comments the previous day.

The Arizona senator had traveled to Virginia Beach to deride the Revs. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as "agents of intolerance" and compared them to the intolerant leader of the Nation of Islam and the radical Harlem minister.

"I disagree strongly with the comparison the senator made of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell to Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton," Mr. Bauer told The Times yesterday. …

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