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.