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McCain Makes Play for Evangelicals' Support

By Politics
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

Romney on Immigration

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R) said the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States could be slowly sent back to their home countries simply through enforcement of current law or alteration of a controversial immigration overhaul plan in the Senate.

Speaking on washingtonpost.com's video interview program "PostTalk," Romney said he had no desire to "round them up as one big group" and try to send illegal immigrants back to their native countries. Instead, he said the idea is "to take people who are here today and working here and replace them gradually and humanely with our own citizens as well as with legal immigrants who come in to take their place."

Also, a day after the third GOP presidential debate, Romney criticized Sen. John McCain's work to overhaul federal campaign finance laws. Romney said legislation the Arizonan sponsored to prohibit "soft money" contributions to party committees "has made things worse, not better."

McCain's bill, Romney argued, has shifted power from candidates and political parties to shadowy organizations, called 527s, which are exempt from contribution limits.

"The law doesn't stop them. They're growing topsy-turvy. The law that he passed that is in place now in our country has created a circumstance where those 527s rule the day."

-- Chris Cillizza and Dan Balz

House Party No More

What is a controversial Nigerian bishop doing hosting a house party for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) this weekend?

He's not -- anymore.

A prankster purporting to be P. Jasper Akinola, the divisive African Anglican leader opposed to homosexuality, put up a notice on the Clinton campaign Web site inviting guests to a "Really Big Party" in Fairfax on Sunday. The address listed: Truro Church on Main Street.

Church officials were bewildered by the listing. Notified about the listing, Clinton officials removed it from the site, saying such hoaxes are common.

One potential downside for Clinton, however, is that she has only three grass-roots events within 100 miles of the District posted on her Web site. (One of them is a pizza deliverer in York, Pa., organizing behind Clinton in the hopes of achieving better conditions for pizza deliverers.) That compares with 120 such events in the area for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

-- Anne E. Kornblut

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