Allegations Could Help McCain With Conservatives

The newspaper conservatives love to hate could become the new story if McCain aides have their way.

The fallout from the New York Times story yesterday about Sen. John McCain's relationship with a female lobbyist and efforts he made on her clients' behalf may help the GOP frontrunner do something he's been struggling to accomplish himself: unite conservatives.

The uproar among many prominent conservatives over the largely anonymously sourced story about McCain and lobbyist Vicki Iseman published in the newspaper conservatives most love to hate is already being used by the campaign as a fundraising tool. And some of the Arizona senator's most vitriolic far-right critics--including radio talker Rush Limbaugh--have rallied to his side.

In the evangelical Christian community, where McCain, who denied the Times report, had been making headway against his remaining rival Mike Huckabee, bloggers have criticized the Times for suggesting without on-the-record evidence that McCain and Iseman were having a romantic relationship. Tony Perkins, who heads the conservative Family Research Council, says that "as much as [evangelicals] distrust politicians, they distrust the media more."

"It's early in the process and he's made inroads with social conservatives," said Perkins, who got a call from McCain shortly after his morning press conference. "He's been very aggressive about handling this and he assured me this is not true." McCain's campaign is pointedly attacking the Times, which last month endorsed the senator. And that always plays well in the conservative community, Perkins says.

"When I speak to social conservatives around the country I tell them I read my Bible daily to see what God has to say about matters of importance," Perkins says, "and then I read the New York Times to see what the other side has to say."

Times editor Bill Keller said in a statement that the story "speaks for itself." But by stoking the anti-Times bias, the McCain campaign is clearly hoping to make the allegations in the story secondary, and the war against the Times the new story.

By Liz Halloran