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The Trail

Friday, February 29, 2008

A CRITIC IS CRITICIZED

Catholic Groups Angry at McCain Over Endorsement

HOUSTON -- The president of the Catholic League blasted John McCain on Thursday for accepting the endorsement of Texas evangelist John Hagee, calling the controversial pastor a bigot who has "waged an unrelenting war against the Catholic Church."

Hagee, who is known for his crusading support of Israel, backed McCain's presidential bid Wednesday, standing next to the senator at a hotel in San Antonio and calling McCain "a man of principle."

But Catholic League President Bill Donohue said in a statement Thursday that Hagee has written extensively in negative ways about the Catholic Church, "calling it 'The Great Whore,' an 'apostate church,' the 'anti-Christ,' and a 'false cult system.' "

"Senator Obama has repudiated the endorsement of Louis Farrakhan, another bigot. McCain should follow suit and retract his embrace of Hagee," Donohue said.

Catholics United, a national online group, also criticized McCain. "By receiving the endorsement of an outspoken critic of the Catholic Church, McCain once again demonstrates that he is willing to sell out his principles for a chance to win the Presidency," Chris Korzen, executive director of Catholics United, said in a statement. "We hope Senator McCain will take the principled position of publicly and unequivocally distancing himself from Pastor Hagee's anti-Catholic comments. Intolerance and bigotry do not belong in American politics."

The McCain campaign declined to comment on the statements.

-- Michael D. Shear

COMPARISONS TO REAGAN

James Baker Backs McCain

HOUSTON -- Former secretary of state James A. Baker III endorsed John McCain, calling him a "great American leader" and a "thoughtful and dedicated Republican" who he compared to Ronald Reagan.

"John is what I think I am, a principled pragmatist," Baker said at a news conference, after McCain spoke to students and professors at Baker's Institute for Public Policy at Rice University. "He prefers to get things done rather than to insist on ideological purity."

In comparing McCain to Reagan, Baker said the former president was a staunch conservative -- "Nobody ever accused the Gipper of being squishy," he said -- but willing to compromise when necessary.

Baker said McCain is that way.

"Like the Gipper, John McCain knows that sometimes it's better to take 80 percent of what you want rather than go over the cliff flying your flag," Baker said. He said McCain embodies the "roll-up-your-sleeves, bottom-line approach" that Americans want.

McCain accepted the endorsement as he continued to hammer Barack Obama for his comments about al-Qaeda in this week's Democratic debate. He said Obama's desire to withdraw troops from Iraq will lead to "chaos."

"We will continue this debate and discussion," McCain vowed.

-- Michael D. Shear

LONG SHOT'S RUNNING MATE

Matt Gonzalez Is Nader's Choice

Ralph Nader, beginning his third long-shot run for the presidency, called a news conference for noon Thursday at the National Press Club to announce his running mate. To add to the intrigue, Nader aides teased those arriving by handing out sheets of paper identifying the vice presidential candidate only as "?"

Nader entered the room. Aides removed the duct tape covering the campaign poster on the lectern -- revealing the running mate's name.

"Nader/Gonzalez '08," said the poster.

Baffled silence filled the room. The former Green Party nominee had hooked up with President Bush's former attorney general?

Actually, it turned out to be less exciting than that. Nader's choice wasn't Alberto Gonzales, but rather another son of Texas, Matt Gonzalez.

"I'm not a familiar face to the Washington press corps," the Nader running mate admitted. Nor to many other people. Gonzalez is a former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He lost a race for San Francisco district attorney. He lost a race for San Francisco mayor. Now, he's ready to put that background to use for his biggest challenge: losing a race for the vice presidency.

For Nader, who also announced that he isn't seeking the backing of the Green Party this time, the Gonzalez choice might not give him the bump he sought. But he asked for patience. "No oak tree ever starts without an acorn," the consumer advocate told the assembled reporters, urging them to take his candidacy seriously.

-- Dana Milbank

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