May 2008 Church & State | People & Events

Presumed Republican presidential nominee John McCain is working to boost his standing with the Religious Right, meeting with top leaders in New Orleans recently.

McCain addressed the Council for National Policy (CNP) March 7 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Although events sponsored by the secretive Religious Right umbrella group are normally closed to the media, a story about McCain’s speech appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

The newspaper reported that McCain “sought to mend fences” and that he portrayed himself as sympathetic to Religious Right causes: “an anti-abortion candidate who would defend traditional marriage….”

“We have to work to change the culture of America to protect the rights of the unborn,” McCain said. “That’s how we will ultimately succeed.” He vowed to appoint Supreme Court justices who “will not legislate from the bench.”

McCain also attacked “radical Islam,” a line that usually pleases Religious Right audiences.

But McCain may still have some work to do with the Religious Right base. The Times-Picayune reported that when an attendee asked him to discuss his faith, McCain told an often-repeated story about the kindness shown to him by a Christian guard in a North Vietnamese prison camp. Some attendees were dissatisfied, saying they want to hear more about McCain’s faith, not the guard’s.

Long-time Religious Right activist Richard Viguerie told U.S. News & World Report last month that many of the nation’s top conservative activists remain wary of McCain.

“He hasn’t reached out to us,” Viguerie carped. “He’s trying to get our support on the cheap. The feeling is…the next step is up to McCain. We’re waiting to see if he’s going to reach out.”

Viguerie, who attended the CNP meeting, said he was disappointed with many of the answers McCain gave during the Q&A. He also said conservatives are waiting to see whom McCain picks as his running mate.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, has stated publicly that he will not vote for McCain. The Wall Street Journal noted last month that Dobson has softened his rhetoric somewhat but remains critical of the Arizona senator.

“I have seen no evidence that Sen. McCain is successfully unifying the Republican Party or drawing conservatives into his fold,” Dobson said in a written statement. “To the contrary, he seems intent on driving them away.”