McCain Seen Botching Outreach To Religious Conservatives

John McCain is botching his outreach to religious conservatives, evangelical activists say.

The Arizona senator has been slipping in the polls, and is widely faulted in the GOP for not only opposing a federal marriage amendment which would ban same-sex marriage but also for supporting campaign finance overhaul and for supposedly being untrustworthy on other conservative issues.

McCain is also faulted in conservative circles for not campaigning aggressively on the social issues important to conservatives, even though his actual views on those issues are to the right of center. On abortion and gay rights, for example, McCain takes a conservative stance but doesn't emphasize these positions enough to satisfy many on the right.

Critics say McCain demonstrated a misunderstanding of religious conservatives in his much-publicized courting of the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. "He is 25 years too late," says one prominent activist, who argues that McCain should be publicly wooing James Dobson, Franklin Graham, and other socially conservative leaders who are more contemporary in their appeal.

At the same time, the courting of Falwell and Robertson alienated independents who had admired McCain for keeping his distance from those religious leaders.

By Kenneth T. Walsh