McCain’s Continuing Struggles to Win Over the Right

US News and World Report’s Dan Gilgoff reports that two staffers hired by John McCain’s presidential campaign to make inroads with the Right have been fired and are now blasting the campaign’s “contempt for Christians”:

Two former aides hired to spearhead religious outreach for presidential candidate John McCain say that they were virtually ignored by the campaign and that McCain’s top campaign strategists are intent on winning votes of religious voters without having to develop serious ties to faith communities. The aides, who were fired in early April after roughly three months on the job, said the campaign staff declined to return scores of their phone calls and E-mail messages, denied them access to leaders of the McCain campaign, and pressed them to collect church directories—a controversial tactic—as the centerpiece of a strategy to woo “values” voters.

“In the end, you came away with the strong sense that they had contempt for the faith-based community,” says Marlene Elwell, one of those fired staffers. Elwell, a prominent Christian-right activist, was hired by McCain in December 2005 to be national director of his “Americans of Faith” coalition. “The way we were being treated it was as if we had leprosy.”

[T]he other fired staffer, Judy Haynes—a former top Christian Coalition official hired to work under Elwell—had an assessment similar to Elwell’s, saying in a separate interview that the campaign exhibited “a contempt for Christians.”

Elwell and Haynes say that they were routinely denied access to McCain’s campaign manager and senior strategist and couldn’t get approval for their budgets or activities, claiming that the campaign preferred to simply try and collect church directories so that they could, in Haynes words, “rape and pillage the church [membership] lists.”

The McCain campaign, of course, denies this and claims to have regular contact with a variety of right-wing leaders:

The McCain campaign’s Heckman said that, far from exhibiting hostility to religious conservatives, McCain speaks regularly with such prominent evangelical figures as former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, Southern Baptist Convention public policy chief Richard Land, and televangelist John Hagee. Heckman, himself a veteran of Bauer’s 2000 presidential campaign, also noted that McCain has hired former Christian Coalition field director Guy Rodgers to help with national religious outreach and Marlys Popma, an evangelical Christian and former head of Iowa Right to Life, as a top Iowa staffer.