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McCain Denounces Leaders Of Christian Religious Right

By Elaine S. Povich and Craig Gordon
NEWSDAY -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Monday denounced the twin pillars of the Christian religious right, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, as “agents of intolerance” -- a risky political gambit that was designed to attract moderates but also could alienate the religious conservatives who make up a critical Republican constituency.

McCain’s main Republican rival in the race for president, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, condemned McCain as a “name-caller.”

The back-and-forth over one of the modern Republican Party’s most loyal voter groups came the day before both Virginia and Washington State hold their Republican primaries. Bush is ahead in the polls by about 10 points in Virginia, while Washington is rated a dead heat. North Dakota also holds caucuses Tuesday.

Bush campaigned in Seattle; McCain in Virginia Beach, Va., in the home state of the two evangelists. The McCain campaign has charged Robertson and his organization with telephoning voters alleging that McCain’s national co-chairman, Warren Rudman, is a “vicious bigot.” Bush operatives said that McCain’s campaign also approved telephone calls highlighting anti-Catholic statements made by Bob Jones University, where Bush spoke earlier this month.

Monday, McCain called himself a “Reagan Republican,” citing former President Reagan, who attracted a broad base of Democrats and independents as well as core Republicans. McCain charged that Bush is a “Pat Robertson Republican” who would lose to Al Gore, if the vice president becomes the Democratic nominee.

“Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right,” McCain said.

“We are the party of Ronald Reagan, not Pat Robertson. We are the party of Theodore Roosevelt, not the party of special interests. We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, not Bob Jones.”

Bush, also trying to grab the Reagan mantle, suggested that Reagan “didn’t point fingers. He never played to people’s religious fears like Sen. McCain has shamelessly done, ascribing views to me that I don’t have.

“You can’t lead America to a better tomorrow by calling people names and pointing fingers,” Bush said during a news conference in Seattle shortly after McCain’s speech. “We need a uniter, not a divider.”

On Sunday, Bush released a letter to Cardinal John O’Connor apologizing for having spoken earlier this month at Bob Jones University without disassociating himself from the “anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice” of the fundamentalist school.

Monday, New York Gov. George Pataki said that Bush’s Bob Jones appearance was a mistake, but that the apology to O’Connor should be sufficient. In an appearance with Pataki, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., a Roman Catholic, agreed. New York’s Catholic voters make up 46 percent of the Republican enrollment in the state.

Also Monday, a spokeswoman for Falwell said the evangelist would have no comment. A telephone call to Bob Jones University was not returned.