Ohio

The Return of the Restoration Project

Back in 2006, we wrote a report about the "Patriot Pastors" movement, various state level efforts by evangelical pastors to organize so-called “Restoration Projects” that would transform America by applying the significant resources of their churches to political campaigns. The most high-profile effort was in Ohio and run by Rod Parsley and Russell Johnson, with close cooperation from then Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, though efforts were underway in several other states as well, including Texas. While the forces behind the Ohio movement are lying low, with Parsley still smarting from being humiliated by John McCain and Blackwell busy with his various jobs with the Family Research Council, the Club for Growth, and Tom DeLay's Coalition for a Conservative Majority, the Texas Freedom Network reports that the efforts in Texas are still going strong, thanks to the committed backing of Gov. Rick Perry:

The governor’s disturbing mix of faith and militancy comes in an invitation to conservative evangelical pastors to attend a Texas Restoration Project event in Austin next month … The Pastors’ Policy Briefing on Oct. 9-10 in Austin will be the group’s eighth since May 2005. … According to the invitation, [Mike] Huckabee will be joining Gov. Perry at the Austin event next month. Other speakers will include David Barton, who is the former Texas Republican Party vice chairman and the founder of the Christian advocacy group WallBuilders, and Kelly Shackelford, head of Free Market Foundation, which is Focus on the Family’s Texas affiliate.

TFN has also posted the invitation sent out by Perry:

Both our nation and our Judeo Christian heritage are under attack by a force that is more dangerous than any threat our world has faced in recent memory. I am convinced that our ability to defeat the radical jihadists who threaten our nation will be significantly impacted by the prayers and leadership of America’s evangelical pastors.

"Rediscovering God in America” was created to inspire people of faith to engage the culture and bring America back to our worldwide standing as a beacon of hope, a city shining on a hill.

Because God entrusted you to care for and lead His flock, you can play a key role in restoring God to the center of American life, thus strengthening our nation to confront this looming threat.

While Congress occupies its time trying to legislate defeat in Iraq, we hope you will attend a Pastors’ Policy Briefing that will equip you to walk point in the war of values and ideas.

Rediscovering God in America-Austin is intended to remind us that excuses are not the proper strategy when facing evil and confronting enemies. Instead, we must rally godly people and seek God’s provision for the resources, the courage, and the strength necessary to win and, ultimately, glorify Him.

McCain’s Life Easier After Saddleback

Christianity Today sat down with Marlys Popma, president of Iowa's Right to Life Committee, former deputy national political director for Gary Bauer’s 2000 presidential campaign, and current Evangelical outreach coordinator for John McCain.  During the discussion, Popma suggests that McCain’s appearance at the Saddleback faith forum was such a success that it’s actually made it less necessary for the campaign to openly court the Right:  

McCain just spoke at Rick Warren's forum, he met with Billy and Franklin Graham, and he met with evangelicals in Ohio. What is the campaign doing to reach out to evangelicals, other than these meetings?

Those meetings are less important than after Saddleback, but they were still important. It's very important that we touch leadership in groups or one at a time. We plan to make a visit with leadership in priority states. We also send regular e-mails to the individuals whom we have identified in our group. We recently put out a piece on John's faith. It's mostly getting John McCain's conservative message out to the grassroots.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the campaign is letting up.  In fact, Popma reports that whenever she meets with right-wing activists, the one issue she makes sure to drive home is judges:

When you talk to evangelicals about voting for John McCain, what's your pitch?

The first thing I talk about is judges. We need judges who believe in the original intent of the Constitution and show great jurisprudence, who do not legislate from the bench and are constructionists. We are one judge away from the reversal of Roe v. Wade. There are many other points: that John McCain has had a 24-, 25-year pro-life message. He stands for marriage between one man and one woman. He has a great compassion for individuals as a whole, not only in this country, but also abroad. He and his wife are extremely philanthropic. Cindy is involved with HALO and Operation Smile. I just think that as a team, Sen. McCain and his wife, Cindy, reach the heart of what an evangelical Christian is.

If McCain and his wife really do “reach the heart of what an evangelical Christian is,” that must come as a surprise to Rob Schenck, who just announced that McCain is not an Evangelical at all.  

But despite seemingly having the herculean task of selling McCain to the Religious Right, to hear Popma tell it, her job couldn’t be easier because McCain is the total right-wing package: 

We understand on this campaign that there are essentially two groups in which we look for evangelicals. One is what I call "movement conservatives." Those are individuals who have for years been working for the unborn and working hard to make sure that the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. There is also a young emerging group of people who have broadened their scope. They haven't neglected marriage and life issues, but they've broadened them into a concern about global poverty and making sure the quality of life for individuals is one that a human expects and deserves.

The exciting thing about John McCain is that he hits on all cylinders. There's not any one of the things that evangelicals would be looking for — creation care, all of them — that John McCain has had in his agenda for years.

McCain’s VP Talk Derails Right Wing’s Plans

For most of the election season, the Right has been anything but energized about supporting John McCain.  That had started to change in recent weeks, as their fear of a Barack Obama presidency began to overpower their principles and they initiated efforts to mobilize on his behalf.  At least until McCain suggested that he was open to the idea of naming a pro-choice running mate, at which point the Right began to freak out and, as World Magazine reports, the massive mobilization efforts they had planned came to a screeching halt:

[Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values] said McCain appeared sincere and serious about his pro-life and pro-marriage views. After the June meeting, Burress was poised to deliver for McCain in Ohio: With nearly 1 million contacts in the CCV database, Burress began planning mailings that would tout McCain’s pro-life position.

Burress told WORLD he was also in talks with other Christian groups to send material to their state mailing lists: 100,000 contacts from Focus on the Family, 100,000 from the American Family Association, and some 50,000 from the Family Research Council, according to Burress.

Then came August 13: When Burress heard McCain’s comments about the possibility of a pro-abortion running mate, the grassroots gears screeched to a halt. “The train has stopped in its tracks,” Burress told WORLD.

Until McCain announces his running mate, Burress says all plans for grassroots activities are on hold. Political observers say McCain will likely announce his running mate next Friday— the day after Obama delivers his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Burress and other social conservatives remain hopeful that McCain will pick a pro-life candidate, and Burress says he’s confident that evangelicals in Ohio would enthusiastically support him if he does. If he doesn’t? “It will feel like a kick in the stomach,” said Burress. “And you don’t feel like working very hard when you’ve been kicked in the stomach.”

One Press Release Per Year Enough for Fox News

Back when the issue of judicial confirmations was heating up in the Senate, at the center of the Republican efforts to confirm controversial nominees was Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Justice.   As a member of the “Four Horsemen” along with C. Boyden Gray, Edwin Meese III, and Leonard Leo, Sekulow was a inside player in the battle over the “nuclear option” and the confirmations of John Roberts and Samuel Alito. 

Along the way, Sekulow created a new group called The Judicial Confirmation Network that was designed to give the appearance of grassroots support for the efforts:

It was a subtle bit of targeting that dovetailed with another project under way in an office just above the radio studio. That's where Gary A. Marx, head of the grass-roots arm of Mr. Sekulow's campaign, was meeting with a Maine activist ginning up telephone calls, letters and editorials aimed at pushing Ms. Collins into the antifilibuster camp.

In the 2004 campaign, Mr. Marx, 29, was the Bush-Cheney national conservative coalition director who helped organize church-sponsored voter drives in Ohio. In January, Mr. Sekulow invited Mr. Marx to set up the Judicial Confirmation Network in his offices so they could combine forces.

Mr. Sekulow uses his Senate contacts to track the status of the debate and identify wavering lawmakers. While he targets them on the radio or through his regular emails, Mr. Marx follows up with state-based groups that can be important to a senator's political career.

The JCN quickly made a name for itself, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the efforts only to become little more than a shell once the battles were over.  Little was heard from its two employees, Gary Marx and Wendy Long, until both showed up on Mitt Romney’s National Faith and Values Steering Committee and, in the meantime, the JCN essentially went dark, having not even issued a press release since July of 2007.   Until today, that is, when Long resurfaced to attack Barack Obama for his answer during a question at Rick Warren’s faith forum about which Supreme Court judges he would not have nominated:

All this speaks volumes about the kind of judges Obama would appoint, and the way he would fill several potential vacancies at the Supreme Court that could arise during the next President's term in office. Obama wants Justices who will do his bidding, who will implement the preferred policies of the liberal establishment - not Justices like Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Alito, who understand that the role of a judge is not to legislate from the bench.

But that was apparently enough to get her quoted at length in an article on FoxNews.com:

“Apparently, Obama can do no better than to recycle discredited statements of Harry Reid when it comes to Justice Thomas. Like other liberal elites, Obama cannot stand it when a black man strays from the ideological plantation and refuses to implement liberal policies through the courts. But Obama will never point out any intellectual deficiencies in Justice Thomas’s work, because he can’t. Justice Thomas’s opinions consistently reveal faithfulness to the Constitution, judicial modesty and deference to the will of the people in our representative democracy. That is opposed to everything that Obama and the liberals are trying to do in grabbing power from the people and giving it to the courts,” she said.

The McCain Meltdown

It is hard to overstate the shockwave that John McCain sent through the GOP’s right-wing base with his comments earlier this week that he would not rule out the possibility of naming a pro-choice running mate (though not a pro-gay one, of course).

Right-wing leaders were quick to denounce the statement, with Tony Perkins telling the Washington Times yesterday that “if he picks a pro-choice running mate, I don't see how he can win this race."  And today, Phyllis Schlafly weighed in, calling it a “mistake,” and others obviously share that assessment:

"If Tom Ridge is on the ticket, I will not be voting Republican," Home School Legal Defense Association President Mike Farris said told The Washington Times. He thought for a moment, then added: "I won't be voting Democratic either."

The widely influential founder and chairman of the American Family Association Chairman, Donald P. Wildmon, said a Ridge pick would be a "disaster for Republicans."

Concerned Women for America Chairman Beverly LaHaye said "many will walk" away from the Republican ticket if it includes a pro-choice vice president.

Elsewhere, state-based right-wing leaders, many of whom have had personal meetings with McCain, are likewise making their displeasure known

“It absolutely floored me,” said Phil Burress, head of the Ohio-based Citizens for Community Values. “It would doom him in Ohio.”

Burress emailed about a dozen “pro-family leaders” he knows outside Ohio and forwarded it to three McCain aides tasked with Christian conservative outreach.

“That choice will end his bid for the presidency and spell defeat for other Republican candidates,” Burress wrote in the message.

He and other Ohio conservatives met privately with McCain in June, and while the nominee didn’t promise them an anti-abortion rights running mate, his staff said they could “almost guarantee” that would be the case, Burress recalled.

Now, Burress said, “he’s not even sure [Christian conservatives] would vote for him let alone work for him if he picked a pro-abortion running mate.”

James Muffett, head of Michigan’s Citizens for Traditional Values, met with McCain along with a handful of other Michigan-based social conservatives Wednesday night.

To select a running mate who supports abortion rights would be “wrong-headed, short-sighted, fracture the Republican Party and not allow us to capitalize on the Democratic Party’s fracture right now,” Muffett argued.

“If he does that, it makes our job 100 times harder. It would dampen enthusiasm at a time when evangelicals are looking for ways to gin up enthusiasm.”

McCain, Muffett said, got that message in their meeting.

“Some people in the movement say it would be the kiss of death. He heard that in the room last night.”

Predictably, Gary Bauer - one of McCain’s earliest right-wing supporters who seems to only show up when the candidate does something to anger Bauer’s right-wing allies - appeared on the scene to assure them that there was nothing to worry about:

Gary Bauer, founder of the Campaign for Working Families, said he isn't worried.

"I’m confident that at the end of the day, the running mate will be pro-life," he told Family News in Focus.

McCain has a solid pro-life voting record on abortion issues and has promised to appoint "strict constructionists" to the Supreme Court.

How Many Pro-Hucakbee/Anti-Romney Efforts Do They Need?

Earlier today, the Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins participated in an on-line Q&A on The Washington Times’ website during which he set out the characteristics the Right is looking for in John McCain’s vice-presidential running mate.  His choice of words that the running mate “needs to be strong where he is weak” by having “have a record of delivering” on the issues that matter to the Right suggests that he, like so many others, is not particularly enthused about McCain:

Question: There has been a lot written about possible VP candidates for McCain that will be acceptable to the Christian value voters. Who are a few possibilities that you could see this coalition being comfortable with?

Answer: To date I have resisted the temptation to play the name game. Rather, I have focused on the qualities we would like to see in John McCain’s running mate. His running mate needs to be strong where he is weak, someone who is not reluctant to talk about the issues that remain top priority for most social conservatives; the sanctity of human life, the preservation of traditional marriage and the strengthening of the family. Not only must this person be able to communicate a concern and a commitment for these issues, they have to have a record of delivering on these and other issues.

So who would be a good choice?  Mike Hucakbee, of course:

Answer: There is no question in my mind that Mike Huckabee would raise the intensity level of support for John McCain, something the Senator really needs. I do have some policy differences with Mike, but we share a common view on most, if not all, of the social policy issues. I think he would compliment John McCain and I would be supportive of him as John McCain's running mate.

It seems that just about every right-wing activist currently supporting McCain wants him to pick Hucakbee and is warning him not to pick Mitt Romney.  In fact, as we reported yesterday, McCain is currently in Michigan meeting with former Huckabee supporters who are telling him the same thing yet again.  And just in case that message hasn’t yet sunk in, another group of Huckabee supporters in Ohio are starting groups all over the state in order to get the message out: 

Some Ohio social conservatives say they know whom they don't want John McCain to pick as his running mate: former Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney.

In a move that may say as much about their continuing uneasiness regarding McCain as it does about their mistrust of Romney, an alliance of Buckeye State social conservatives is trying to form a group: Social Conservatives Against Romney.

Although McCain is keeping his potential vice-presidential choices a tightly held secret, Romney is said to be on the short list.

"Christians are praying earnestly for the right person," said Diane Stover, a Parma resident who was a delegate for GOP candidate Mike Huckabee, a favorite of many social conservatives, in the Ohio primary. "McCain wouldn't have been our person. But we definitely feel like it would be a huge help to John McCain to pick someone we can be confident will represent the value-voter position. I don't think it helps him (McCain) at all in Ohio if he picks Romney."

Jane Maines of Hamilton, also a former Huckabee delegate, said the anti-Romney Ohioans hope their group will spread to other states.

Stover and Maines are among about a dozen activists who met near Cincinnati last week, with Stover participating via phone from the Cleveland area, to discuss how to launch the group.

"We're hoping this will become hugely widespread," Maines said.

Presumably, the fact that McCain is not ruling out the possibility of naming a pro-choice running mate is only going to displease the Right further:

IN A WIDE-RANGING INTERVIEW aboard his campaign plane this morning, John McCain said that he is open to choosing a pro-choice running mate and named former Pennsylvania governor Tom Ridge as someone who merits serious consideration despite his support for abortion rights. McCain also criticized Barack Obama's presidential campaign for attempts to "politicize" the debate over Georgia and criticized President Bush for failing to recognize the true nature of Vladimir Putin.

"I think that the pro-life position is one of the important aspects or fundamentals of the Republican Party," McCain said. "And I also feel that--and I'm not trying to equivocate here--that Americans want us to work together. You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that that would necessarily rule Tom Ridge out."

Burress Predicts McCain Will “Reverse Himself” on Stem-Cell Research

Back in June, when John McCain met with right-wing activists in Ohio, McCain was told in no uncertain terms that “he needs to talk about marriage” and just one day later he publicly came out in support of the California Marriage Amendment.

Since that meeting, Ohio Religious Right icon Phil Burress has become a vocal supporter of McCain and been working hard to win over other right-wing activists to the cause.  Now, Burress is speculating that, thanks to their pressure and McCain’s need to pander, they just might have some success in getting him to change his position on his support for stem-cell research:

Others, though, see reasons for hope, both that Mr. McCain will draw contrasts on the issues on which he sides with conservatives and that he might end up changing his mind on stem cell research. The feeling stems in part from a meeting social conservative leaders in Ohio held with Mr. McCain late last month, when Dr. Jack Wilke, a pro-life movement leader, made a case for him to change his position on federal research funding.

Dr. Wilke argued that embryonic stem cell research is a false hope and that money is better spent on other areas that are less morally contentious.

"[McCain] took extensive notes; he listened intently to what [Dr. Wilke] was saying; and when he was done, he didn't hesitate to ask for all the research," said Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, an Ohio-based group. "It was only a month ago he got all this information. I didn't expect him to change his mind overnight. My gut feeling, and this is strictly an opinion, is he has all the reasons to reverse himself."

Mr. Burress said the politics of the situation might make it impossible for Mr. McCain to reverse himself during the campaign - "the left and the left media will immediately pounce on him as pandering to the right and flip-flopping" - but he said once in office he thinks the research showing research options other than embryonic stem cells will be convincing to Mr. McCain.

Does Burress really think that McCain is reluctant to “reverse himself” during the campaign because “the left” will pounce on him?  That would be odd. By one count, he has already done so on more than seventy other issues.

Tom DeLay: Still Hard At Work

So what has Tom DeLay been up to since leaving office, besides telling Rick Scarborough’s congregation that “America was created by God to spread the Gospel; to spread the word of Jesus Christ and to propagate Christianity,” that is?

Well, in addition to starting a consulting firm and writing the occasional blog post, he’s apparently been hard at work trying to get his Coalition for a Conservative Majority off the ground, though so far it seems that he’s been more successful in getting media coverage of his grandiose plans to become the MoveOn of the Right than in actually transforming CCM into any sort of grassroots powerhouse: 

"Obama is too radical," he says, calling the presumptive Democratic nominee a "socialist" and a "Marxist." But even if McCain wins, that won't be sufficient for a 1994-style conservative comeback. "Conservatives will have to fight McCain too on issues like immigration, affirmative action, and global warming," DeLay says. He warns that the cap-and-trade policies favored in varying degrees by both Obama and McCain could "destroy our economy."

Since leaving the House, DeLay has been busy raising money for conservative causes, huddling with movement leaders over political strategy, training activists, and rallying true believers to keep the faith. The Coalition for a Conservative Majority now has eight active chapters, with hopes of growing across the entire country. Even more important to DeLay than reclaiming the congressional majority is defending Israel, another area where he has remained active behind the scenes now that he is no longer in office.

..

In many ways DeLay's task may be the hardest, especially given the tools the Hammer has at his disposal. Enforcing party discipline in the House isn't exactly the same as keeping together a fractious group of economic, social, and national-security conservatives who have been demoralized by defeat and are still adapting to Obama after gearing up to fight Hillary. This may include the Coalition for a Conservative Majority, whose website contains more references to Hillary than Obama. The group's chairman, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, was an honorable exception to the Buckeye State GOP's unprincipled big-government drift, but his landslide gubernatorial defeat raises questions about whether he is the man to topple MoveOn.Org.

For The Right, Obama’s Religious Test Now Includes Denouncing Unrelated Billboards

Throughout the summer, the Freedom From Religion Foundation has been placing billboards around the country reading "Imagine No Religion"

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As the FFRF explains it

The Foundation is taking its irreverent message to what it calls the "unmassed masses" state-by-state. The billboard carries the Freedom From Religion Foundation's name and its website, ffrf.org.

"Wherever you go, our roadsides of full of religion and religious symbols," said Foundation copresident Annie Laurie Gaylor. "We think it's time to advertise an alternative." The Foundation has placed a second billboard message, with the same stained-glass motif, warning: "Beware of Dogma," in several states.

The Foundation's goal is to place billboards in every state. Currently, its "Imagine No Religion" message appears near the State Capitol in Denver. Billboards have appeared in Madison, Wis., Atlanta, Ga., Columbus, Ohio, and rural Pennsylvania and will be going up in Harrisburg, Pa., in September.

The ad has now gone up in Denver, though The Denver Post reports that “it will come down before the Democratic National Convention because the rate for that period was prohibitively high.”  But that hasn’t stopped a Virginia group called In God We Trust from trying to capitalize on it by sending a letter to Barack Obama telling him that he has an obligation to publicly denounce it and that failure to do so “will permanently damage your message of hope and inclusion with the American people”:

By placing their billboard in Denver, the FFRF hopes to ride your coattails to the Democratic National Convention and claim your success somehow validates their anti-religious views. The presence of this hate-filled message in a prominent location in the city where you will be nominated in just a few weeks has already garnered much media attention. Its message damages the Democratic Party's image with the 92% of Americans who believe in God. I urge you to publicly reject the stance of the FFRF. Failing to publicly denounce this attack on religion will permanently damage your message of hope and inclusion with the American people. Your silence will only show Americans that attacks on their beliefs will go unchallenged in an Obama administration.

New Friends Bring New Troubles for McCain

Now that a large group of Religious Right activists have come forward in support of John McCain, the candidate might be tempted to sit back and relax. But as McCain learned from his experience with televangelists John Hagee and Rod Parsley, it’s not easy to be both a beloved “maverick” and a right-wing champion.

McCain was happy to campaign with Hagee and Parsley, until the media started to pick up their extreme views—thus risking McCain’s “moderate” image among many independent voters.

So what happens if and when people start hearing about McCain’s new friends? If Hagee and Parsley are too much for McCain, voters may begin to wonder, what about these right-wing activists, some of whom are even further out there?

Does McCain endorse David Barton’s partisan pseudo-history of America as a “Christian nation”? Does McCain share Phil Burress’s view that Ohio’s anti-gay marriage amendment should have invalidated the state’s domestic violence law? What are McCain’s thoughts on Tim LaHaye’s warning that “Brilliant Jewish minds have all too frequently been devoted to philosophies that have proved harmful to mankind”? Does McCain believe, like Phyllis Schlafly, that women cannot be raped by their husbands, that the U.S. government is secretly plotting to merge with Mexico and Canada, or that Mexican immigrants are “invading” the U.S. and spreading disease? (For that matter, does this mean Schlafly has successfully “worked over” McCain?)

McCain will be tempted to ditch them, as he did Parsley and Hagee, but that only managed to anger the Religious Right. Mat Staver, who organized the recent pro-McCain meeting, complained of McCain’s abandonment of the televangelists he’d courted, “He threw them under the bus.” Right-wing strategist Mark DeMoss called it a “slap in the face to evangelicals who are already somewhat suspect of Senator McCain.” But keeping his Religious Right friends along may be a slap in the face to his poll numbers.

Burress, Schlafly, Barton Dispense with McCain Foreplay

After a private meeting with John McCain, Ohio Religious Right icon Phil Burress remained a little ho-hum about the candidate he felt obligated to support, but soon enough—after McCain announced his support for California’s anti-gay marriage amendment, anyway—Burress was bubbling over with excitement:

He says McCain was courteous and took detailed notes on what the six had to say about issues such as the sanctity of life, marriage, and judges. "It was so refreshing to me because he was so different than any other politician that I have ever met," describes Burress. He says McCain is not swayed like other politicians. …

"...[I] left there a changed man," he admits.

Burress wrote to his supporters that after the meeting, “40 Ohio Pro-Family Forum leaders … have decided to move forward and start working to educate Ohio Values Voters about the vast differences between McCain and Obama.”

I was once one of those people who said "no way" to Senator John McCain as President. No longer. The stakes are too high. And if Obama wins I need to able to get up on November 5th, look at myself in the mirror, and when I pray, say, "Lord, I did all that I could."

And today, Burress joined a hundred other activists—including far-right heavyweights Phyllis Schlafly and David Barton—in Denver to commit to campaign for McCain:

"Collectively we feel that he will support and advance those moral values that we hold much greater than Obama, who in our view will decimate moral values," said Mat Staver, the chairman of Liberty Counsel, a legal advocacy group, who previously supported Mike Huckabee's candidacy. …

The group included leaders like Phyllis Schlafly, the long-time leader of Eagle Forum; Steve Strang, the publisher of Charisma magazine; Phil Burress, a prominent Ohio marriage and anti-pornography activist; David Barton, the founder of WallBuilders and Donald Hodel, a former secretary of the Interior, who previously served on the board of Focus on the Family. Jim Dobson, the head of Focus and an outspoken critic of McCain, did not attend. The McCain campaign was also not directly represented at the meeting.

A second person who attended the event, but asked not to be named, said that the group was motivated principally by a desire to defeat Barack Obama. "None of these people want to meet their maker knowing that they didn't do everything they could to keep Barack Obama from being president," the participant said. "You've got these two people running for president. One of them is going to become president. That's the perspective. That that's the whole discussion." …

On a recent swing through Ohio, McCain met with a group of religious leaders and activists, including Burress, who has previously been critical of McCain's lack of outreach to Christian conservatives. According to two participants at the Tuesday meeting in Denver, Burress spoke out strongly in favor of uniting behind McCain's candidacy.

Staver said the McCain campaign was making progress but still had more work to do. "I think that the outreach to the community has to increase significantly," he said. "There is a clear enthusiasm."

McCain Endorses CA Marriage Amendment After Meeting OH Right-Wing Activists

As we noted yesterday, John McCain was scheduled to meet with a handful of right-wing activists in Ohio who were not particularly excited about the prospect of supporting his campaign.  At the meeting, McCain reportedly “took detailed notes and listened intently” but apparently didn’t quite win them over:

He spoke for more than an hour but never mentioned issues that social conservatives skeptical of McCain want to hear about: his opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, or appointing conservative judges to the Supreme Court.

Conservative activists say that's a big problem.

"John McCain needs to talk about life more often, he needs to talk about marriage," activist Phil Burress said. "If the senator thinks he is going to run the campaign appealing to the middle by avoiding to talk about the social issues, he is going to lose Ohio."

But what do you know?  One day later, it looks like the message these activists delivered has sunk in, leading McCain to suddenly come out in support of the California Marriage Amendment:

United States Senator John McCain today announced his support for the California Protection of Marriage initiative on the state's November ballot, leaders of the ProtectMarriage.com campaign announced. In an email received by the ProtectMarriage.com campaign, Senator McCain issued the following statement:

"I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman, just as we did in my home state of Arizona. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions."

McCain Still Hopes to Meet With Dobson

Despite the fact that James Dobson has repeatedly attacked John McCain and made it abundantly clear that he will not, under any circumstances, vote for him, it looks like McCain is still grovelling for a meeting. According to the Los Angeles Times, at the recent meeting with right-wing activists in Ohio that we wrote about yesterday, McCain told participants that he's still trying to win Dobson over:
McCain told the activists Thursday that he also hoped to meet with James C. Dobson, founder of the influential group Focus on the Family, who has said he would not vote for McCain. "The senator spoke fondly of him, but believes there's probably room for some bridge-building," said Mike Gonidakis, head of Ohio Right to Life. Participants said McCain took detailed notes and listened intently. McCain's aides said they were satisfied with the meeting, and one called it "successful."

Nose Holding in Ohio

John McCain’s messy break-up with televangelist Rod Parsley had the potential to hurt him most in Ohio, a swing state necessary for McCain and the place where Parsley built a network of electorally-charged “Patriot Pastors” in 2004 and 2006. Now McCain is making amends by delving deeper into the state’s Religious Right.

Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who helped Bush win there in 2004, is a close ally of Parsley; the two campaigned heavily together during Blackwell’s losing bid for governor in 2006. In an AP story today, Blackwell was critical of McCain’s ham-handed efforts to enlist the Religious Right:

"He has never identified with the evangelical and Christian movement and therefore he can, at times, misread or misinterpret certain activities in the political field of play or certain comments that are offered," said Blackwell, now at the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank. "I personally would like for John to get to the point of comfort with some of our issues and policy positions, through understanding and genuine acceptance."

Despite these warnings, Blackwell is a Republican politician at heart and is supporting McCain (who endorsed Blackwell in 2006)—he even recorded a robo-call for the Arizona senator before the Ohio GOP primary in February. But other activists are even more cagey about how much they’ll work for McCain.

In the same AP article, Chris Long of the Ohio Christian Alliance (which broke away from the Christian Coalition when it got too soft) warned, “There’s certainly a little reservation about Mr. McCain.”

Phil Burress, a leader of Ohio’s Religious Right, has been skeptical of McCain’s judges promises and emphasized in March that McCain had a lot more sucking up to do:

Burress, who heads Cincinnati-based Citizens for Community Values, says although he would vote for McCain in the general election, the Arizona lawmaker has thus far failed to energize the bloc Burress refers to as "values voters."

"They are not mobilized right now -- and in fact, they're just going to be sitting back waiting to hear what he has to say to try to get these people to engage in his campaign," explains Burress.

Burress contends McCain needs to apologize to evangelical Christians and values voters for the way he has treated them over the years. He says because the senator is not likely to make that apology, he must strengthen his pledge to appoint strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court.

Jack Willke, the former National Right to Life leader who has been called the “grandfather” of the anti-abortion movement, also made “clear” to McCain the unhappiness of the Right, as the Wall Street Journal reported last month.

Nevertheless, Willke, like the others, is supporting McCain. But McCain is still worried enough to set up a meeting today with Burress, Wilke, Long, and others, as Jake Tapper reports.

Lori Viars, executive director of the Family First PAC … told the Dayton Daily News that her fellow conservatives "would probably hold our nose and vote for McCain."

Apparently before said mass nose-holding can transpire, this meeting was required.

McCain's Pastor Problem Foreshadows Conflict

Soon after breaking with televangelist John Hagee, John McCain rejected another right-wing pastor who had campaigned with him, Rod Parsley. While Parsley, like Hagee, subsequently withdrew his endorsement, it remains to be seen whether he will put his Ohio-based “Patriot Pastors” machine in motion on behalf of the Republican candidate before November.

But the McCain campaign may be more concerned about fallout greater than these two pastors and their television audiences. In working for the Hagee endorsement and incorporating Parsley into the campaign, McCain was no doubt hoping to solidify the Religious Right credibility he has been sweating over for the past two years. While Hagee and Parsley are influential and well-connected, meeting with the president and lobbying Congress, they are active primarily outside of D.C., in the megachurch, “prosperity gospel” world of Trinity Broadcasting Network. As this blog and others revealed some of the pastors’ rough edges—just a sample—McCain was forced to walk a fine line between losing his “maverick” reputation among independent voters and alienating the right-wing base he feels he needs.

McCain’s decision to dump Parsley and Hagee has prompted some warning shots from the Right. “This move may cost him the mainstream evangelical vote. At the very least it will make the Senator suspect to other pastors and millions of unconvinced believers,” wrote Bishop Harry Jackson, who added that the two televangelists have “10 times the outreach muscle” of Barack Obama’s controversial ex-pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Star Parker wrote, “John McCain wants Americans to elect him to provide tough leadership in a dangerous world. But when it just takes some mud slung from a few left-wing websites to drive him under a rock, you have to wonder.”

And Gary Bauer, an ally to both McCain and Hagee, said that “radical left” blogs managed to “drive a wedge” between evangelicals and McCain.

But as CBN’s David Brody reports, the McCain campaign is at the same time stepping up its efforts to woo the Religious Right by running weekly meetings with Bauer and other activists and consulting right-wing groups such as the Family Research Council and the Eagle Forum. Brody writes:

Look, here's the bottom line: The McCain campaign is gearing up for a true battle over Evangelicals this fall. They are NOT taking them for granted. They know they have work to do but what we are seeing here is a ramped up effort that is fully supported by the head guy, John McCain. The Hagee endorsement and subsequent retraction was not the campaign's best moment but the system they have in place now is starting to make headway.

It’s likely McCain’s efforts will pay off in getting the support, explicit or implicit, of the Religious Right groups and activists who have long wedded their politics to the GOP’s—especially if he keeps meeting their demands on judges and other issues. But as they continue to pull McCain to the right, the conflict between the base and independent voters—the conflict McCain saw with Hagee and Parsley—will expand.

McCain Throws Hagee Under the Bus

Back in February of 2007, John McCain was proud to be developing relationships with far-right leaders such as Jerry Falwell, Richard Land, and John Hagee. In particular, McCain pursued Hagee—whose Armageddon-driven Middle East war advocacy seemed to mesh well with McCain’s neoconservative foreign policy ideas—and eventually scored his endorsement.

When the Catholic League pushed back against Hagee’s anti-Catholic reputation, McCain tried to distance himself from the pastor while still bragging about the endorsement. McCain further admitted it was a “mistake” to court Hagee, but insisted he was still “glad” about it. But while Hagee was making time with the Catholic League, more and more of the televangelist’s views were coming out: on Katrina, on the economy, on welfare, and so on.

McCain had apparently decided that his path to the Republican presidential nomination lay with people like Hagee or Rod Parsley, but perhaps he wasn’t prepared for the rough edges of these megachurch pastors compared to media-savvy D.C.-based activists. The last straw, it seems, was Hagee’s explanation that God had appointed Hitler in a prophetic role to “hunt” the Jews and spur the creation of Israel. CNN reported today:

“Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well,” McCain said in a statement to CNN Thursday.

Within minutes, Hagee responded with a version of “You can’t fire me! I quit!”

Ever since I endorsed John McCain for president, people seeking to attack Senator McCain have combed my records for statements they can use for political gain.  They have had no qualms about grossly misrepresenting my position on issues most near and dear to my heart if it serves their political ambitions. 

I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues.  I have therefore decided to withdraw my endorsement of Senator McCain for President effective today, and to remove myself from any active role in the 2008 campaign. 

I hope that the Senator McCain will accept this withdrawal so that he may focus on the issues that are most important to America and the world.

McCain has been trying to have it both ways, walking a line between the far Right and the mainstream. While the candidate has apparently abandoned the uncouth Hagee—and is downplaying his association with firebrand Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley—there’s only so much of the Right he can slough off without alienating its leaders or its constituency. Unless they swallow their pride and count on his promises of a far-right Supreme Court.

McCain Wins By Losing

Suffice it to say that John McCain and Wisconsin Right to Life (WRTL) have had something of a rocky relationship in the past, engaging in extensive litigation over the senator’s flagship McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation ever since WRTL ran ads back in 2004 targeting WI senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold despite a provision in the law “banning ads that mention the names of candidates for public office within certain ‘blackout periods’ ranging from 30 to 60 days before an election--if funds from corporations or unions are used to pay for the ads.”

As the Weekly Standard explained:

McCain has thrown himself into the McCain-Feingold litigation with unusual fervor, personally intervening in Wisconsin Right to Life's lawsuit rather than relying solely on the lawyers for the Federal Election Commission and Justice Department who are charged with defending the constitutionality of federal election laws. "It is not a common, ordinary occurrence" for sponsors of federal legislation to become involved in litigation over their handiwork, notes Bradley A. Smith, a law professor at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, who served as FEC chairman during Bush's first term and is a vocal opponent of McCain-Feingold as well as most other regulation of elections. "How rare it is I can't tell you, but it's more common just to file an amicus [friend-of-the-court] brief."

The case ended up going all the way to the Supreme Court and McCain even filed a brief in which he argued that WRTL’s actions were “a classic case of business corporations funneling unregulated monies to an advocacy group to pay for ads that will influence a federal election” in violation of the law.    

Unfortunately for McCain, he ended up losing the case on a decision written by Chief Justice Roberts and joined by Justice Alito and and others whom he voted to confirm to the Court.  

But it looks like WRTL isn’t one to hold a grudge, because they have now endorsed him and are citing his pledge to appoint more justices like Roberts and Alito to the Supreme Court as one of the key reasons:

The Wisconsin Right to Life Political Action Committee today announced its endorsement of Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential race.

Senator McCain has a stellar 100% voting record on protecting unborn children from abortion.  He opposes the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion on demand in the United States and he voted to ban the gruesome partial-birth abortion procedure. He opposes taxpayer funding of abortion and supports legislation that would require parental notification prior to a minor's abortion.

Senator McCain opposes human cloning and the intentional creation of human embryos for research purposes.  He has stated that he would nominate U.S. Supreme Court justices in the mold of Justices Roberts and Scalia.

Presumably, all McCain needs to do to rack up support from his former Religious Right foes is to keep pledging to appoint the type of judges they demand, even if that means ones who will strike down legislation and views he otherwise champions.

The Goldilocks Right Settles on a Candidate, After the Fact

It was at a Council for National Policy meeting back in September that the Goldilocks brigade of the Religious Right, led by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, threatened to break away from the Republican Party if Rudy Giuliani won the nomination. And the CNP meeting in March was one of John McCain’s first stops after securing the GOP mantle—continuing his pandering to the fringe.

Now, Warren Cole Smith of the conservative-Christian World magazine relates a tense scene from the CNP meeting:

Michael Farris of the Home School Legal Defense Association, an early supporter of Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, chided the group for cold-shouldering his candidate until it was too late. Others, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, disagreed. The meeting quickly threatened to dissolve into accusations, rebuttals, and recriminations.

Then, venerable Paul Weyrich—a founder of the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, and the Council for National Policy (CNP)—raised his hand to speak. Weyrich is a man whose mortality is plain to see. A freak accident several years ago left him with a spinal injury, which ultimately led to both his legs being amputated in 2005. He now gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He is visibly paler and grayer than he was just a few years ago, a fact not lost on many of his friends in the room, some of whom had fought in the political trenches with him since the 1960s.

The room—which had been taken over by argument and side-conversations—became suddenly quiet. Weyrich, a Romney supporter and one of those Farris had chastised for not supporting Huckabee, steered his wheelchair to the front of the room and slowly turned to face his compatriots. In a voice barely above a whisper, he said, "Friends, before all of you and before almighty God, I want to say I was wrong."

In a quiet, brief, but passionate speech, Weyrich essentially confessed that he and the other leaders should have backed Huckabee, a candidate who shared their values more fully than any other candidate in a generation. He agreed with Farris that many conservative leaders had blown it. By chasing other candidates with greater visibility, they failed to see what many of their supporters in the trenches saw clearly: Huckabee was their guy.

McCain’s Secret Speech

It is no secret that John McCain prides himself on being a straight-talkin’ maverick and that the media eats it up, which is why his cozying up to the likes of Rod Parsley and John Hagee received so little coverage.  For that matter, it is probably also why McCain’s recent speech to the Council for National Policy received so little attention  … well, that and the fact that the CNP is notoriously secretive and limited press access to his address. 

But now, several weeks after the event and with absolutely no fanfare, the CNP quietly posted a transcript of his remarks on their threadbare website and while McCain would most certainly deny that he addressed the gathering with any attempt to pander for their votes, he certainly did a lot of telling them what they wanted to hear.  

McCain offered up a litany of issues the Right cares about on which he completely shares their views: federal spending (too high), taxes (bad), dependence on foreign oil (also bad), the border (too porous), Iraq (a success) and, most importantly, judges:

I want to just mention a couple other things with you very briefly.  Judges.  I am proud to have played a role in the appointment of two of the finest judges I think that may have ever been appointed to the United States Supreme Court in Justices Alito and Roberts.

I commit to you, as I have for many years, I will appoint, nominate Judges to the United States Supreme Court who strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench. 

McCain then opened the floor to questions and assured those in attendance that he intends to use his campaign to “articulate a strong and conservative vision for the future of this country” and bring the party together.  He also reiterated his pledge to secure the borders, defeat terrorism, fight the Fairness Doctrine, control health care costs, and “change the culture in America to respect the rights of the unborn.”  He also promised to throw his weight behind efforts to prevent gays and lesbians from being treated equally when it comes to marriage:

ATTENDEE:  Senator, we are from Ohio, and in 2004, many say that the marriage amendment made the difference for Bush. This coming election, you are going to have - Florida is already on the ballot.  Arizona is more than likely going to be on the ballot, and California.  Will you openly support the marriage amendments in those three States?

SENATOR McCAIN:  Yes, sir.  And as I say, I am proud to have been the honorary chairman of our effort last time, which was narrowly defeated, as you know, because there was a misinterpretation of the language, and we are going to clear that up.  I think we can win it this time.

McCain’s “straight talk” reputation is based, at least implicitly, on the assumption that he tells it like it is and won’t hesitate to tell audiences things they might not want to hear.  But so far in this campaign, McCain has addressed three purely right-wing audiences (the CNP, the Values Voter Summit, and CPAC) and each time he has used the opportunity not to demonstrate his “maverick” ways but to humbly seek their support by constantly reminding them of the principles and positions they share, touting his conservative record, and all around telling them what they want to hear.

Double Standards

Although it wasn’t surprising to see John McCain spend much of the past few years courting the Religious Right in advance of securing the Republican presidential nomination, he continued to pander even after his primary victory was all but finalized. Beginning with his speech to the right-wing activists at CPAC—which followed shortly after his main rival, Mitt Romney, dropped out—McCain seemed to step up his embrace of the fringe, picking up more and more endorsements, campaigning with apocalyptic televangelist John Hagee and “Patriot Pastor” Rod Parsley, and reaching out to the Council for National Policy.

McCain’s search for religious-right support might have raised a few flags. Hagee, for example, frames his support for Israel in terms of the end times, going as far as warning that any U.S. foreign policy decision that isn’t “pro-Israel” enough will result in God bringing a “blood bath” of terrorist attacks to America. Hagee also identifies the Catholic Church as the “great whore” of Revelation (a characterization he now denies) and said Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment on a sinful city.

When confronted with some of Hagee’s extreme views, McCain simply responded “all I can tell you is that I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee’s support.'’ After a lot of pressure from the Catholic League, McCain finally issued a bland statement: “I repudiate any comments that are made, including Pastor Hagee’s, if they are anti-Catholic or offensive to Catholics.”

Indeed, McCain would have had difficulty criticizing Hagee any further—much less call the pastor out on his “profoundly distorted view of this country,” to quote Barack Obama’s critique of Rev. Jeremiah Wright—because McCain had sought out Hagee precisely for his extreme stance and the religious-right constituency he can reach.

Just as McCain sought out Hagee for his political clout, it was politics that brought McCain and Ohio televangelist Rod Parsley together on the campaign. When McCain brought Parsley on stage and called him a “spiritual guide,” that didn’t mean the senator had sent the Word of Faith preacher a financial “seed” in hopes that God would bolster his campaign contributions. Instead, McCain was embracing Parsley’s far-right political views and the political machine of “Patriot Pastors” he leads.

David Limbaugh, one of the many right-wing commentators who dismissed Obama’s speech on his pastor, claimed there was a “double standard” when it came to conservatives: “When the remotest connection can be inferred between a conservative and a bigoted supporter, there is always hell to pay.”

But in fact the opposite double standard seems to be in play: While Obama continues to be attacked for his personal relationship with a pastor whose controversial political ideology he’s rejected, McCain’s ongoing ideological relationship with the far Right—consisting, in essence, of him telling them he embraces their political views—remains unconnected to McCain’s political reputation.

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Ohio Posts Archive

Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 02/09/2011, 3:14pm
With CPAC kicking off tomorrow, Metro Weekly profiles GOProud, the gay conservative group that has set off a culture war within the conservative movement and whose participation in the conference led to a boycott by several Religious Right organizations.  And while we don't agree with most of GOProud's agenda and believe their sense of smug self-satisfaction is annoying and entirely undeserved, we do whole-heartedly support their effort to drive a deep wedge into the conservative movement in order to marginalize the "nasty, anti-gay bigots" who make up the Religious Right... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Wednesday 02/09/2011, 3:14pm
With CPAC kicking off tomorrow, Metro Weekly profiles GOProud, the gay conservative group that has set off a culture war within the conservative movement and whose participation in the conference led to a boycott by several Religious Right organizations.  And while we don't agree with most of GOProud's agenda and believe their sense of smug self-satisfaction is annoying and entirely undeserved, we do whole-heartedly support their effort to drive a deep wedge into the conservative movement in order to marginalize the "nasty, anti-gay bigots" who make up the Religious Right... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 02/08/2011, 11:46am
As we have noted in the past, the groups pushing the anti-choice "personhood" amendments all around the country have tended to operate on their own because other established anti-choice groups have refused to support the efforts because a) they are unlikely to pass and b) they are unlikely to survive court challenges. And despite the fact that the whenever "personhood" has made it onto the ballot, it has failed miserably, organizers continue to press the issue, and are even picking up support for an effort in Mississippi from the American Family Association while... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Tuesday 02/08/2011, 11:46am
As we have noted in the past, the groups pushing the anti-choice "personhood" amendments all around the country have tended to operate on their own because other established anti-choice groups have refused to support the efforts because a) they are unlikely to pass and b) they are unlikely to survive court challenges. And despite the fact that the whenever "personhood" has made it onto the ballot, it has failed miserably, organizers continue to press the issue, and are even picking up support for an effort in Mississippi from the American Family Association while... MORE
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 11:16am
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that his Republican Study Committee, the ultraconservative group that counts a majority of the GOP caucus as its members, told The Hill that he supports congressional action to reverse Washington DC’s marriage equality law. “I think RSC will push for it, and I’m certainly strongly for it,” the Ohio Republican said, “I don’t know if we’ve made a decision if I’ll do it or let another member do it, but I’m 100 percent for it.” Jordan voted against every major piece of gay-rights legislation and recently... MORE
Brian Tashman, Tuesday 01/25/2011, 11:16am
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) said that his Republican Study Committee, the ultraconservative group that counts a majority of the GOP caucus as its members, told The Hill that he supports congressional action to reverse Washington DC’s marriage equality law. “I think RSC will push for it, and I’m certainly strongly for it,” the Ohio Republican said, “I don’t know if we’ve made a decision if I’ll do it or let another member do it, but I’m 100 percent for it.” Jordan voted against every major piece of gay-rights legislation and recently... MORE
Kyle Mantyla, Monday 01/24/2011, 2:50pm
Last week we noted that almost a year after almost completely disappearing from public Religious Right activism following her May Day Prayer Rally debacle, Janet Porter of Faith 2 Action had resurfaced in her home state of Ohio and had gotten back to her anti-choice roots and was now pushing something called "The Heartbeat Bill" that would make it illegal to have an abortion once a heartbeat has been detected. Over the weekend Porter addressed a local anti-choice rally and uploaded a new video explaining the Ohio effort: Faith 2 Action also uploaded this truly excellent... MORE