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McCain Makes Play for Evangelicals' Support

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

After firing two senior campaign aides in charge of courting evangelical Christians earlier this year, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took steps yesterday to try to shore up support from religious conservatives.

McCain spent an hour answering questions on a conference call with church pastors and antiabortion activists in Iowa, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Florida and other key states, a campaign spokesman said.

And the McCain campaign announced the hiring of Mike Fair, a Republican state senator from Greenville, S.C., as a $7,000-a-month consultant to head the South Carolina chapter of his religious mobilization effort, Americans of Faith for McCain.

In April, McCain fired the national director of Americans of Faith, Marlene Elwell, and her deputy, Judy Haynes. They later said they had been cut out of decision-making.

"There is a contempt for Christians" in the McCain campaign, Haynes said yesterday. "I have a great deal of respect and admiration for John McCain . . . and I'm not altogether sure he knew what was going on."

She added that "a big part of the contention" was objection to the campaign's desire to use a tactic from the 2004 Bush campaign: collecting church directories.

"Marlene and I had our own plan, and it was not to rape and pillage the churches for their directories," Haynes said.

David Rexrode, coalitions coordinator for the McCain campaign, said it has many conservative religious staffers, including speechwriter Brett O'Donnell, former coach of the championship debate team at the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

"I do not think there is hostility to conservative Christians here. If there was, I wouldn't be here," said Rexrode, a Southern Baptist who helped run the Bush campaign's religious outreach effort four years ago. He added that the campaign was not gathering church directories.

-- Alan Cooperman


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