WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Shortcomings by John McCain's campaign in the art of politics are alienating two organizations of Christian conservatives. James Dobson's Focus on the Family is estranged following the failure of Dobson and McCain to talk out their differences. Evangelicals who follow the Rev. John Hagee resent his disavowal by McCain.
The evangelicals are not an isolated problem for the Republican candidate. Enthusiasm for McCain inside the Republican coalition is in short supply. During the four months since McCain clinched the nomination, he has not satisfied conservatives who oppose his positions on global warming, campaign finance reform, immigration, domestic oil drilling and how to ban same-sex marriages.
Among all constituency groups, McCain's need for the evangelicals is most crucial. After supporting Jimmy Carter's election in 1976, Christian conservatives switched to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and since have been indispensable for Republican presidential candidates. Dobson and Hagee, who are not merely inside-the-Beltway interest group chairmen or think tank managers, command substantial followings.
"I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances," Dobson said in January 2007, adding, "I pray that we won't get stuck with him." After McCain clinched the nomination, however, Dobson privately invited him to his Focus on the Family's headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. When members of the Family Policy Council gathered there May 9 for an annual conference, the word was spread that McCain's campaign staff had rebuffed Dobson's invitation.
It had not been that simple. The McCain campaign had responded that the senator would be in Denver May 2 and would be happy to see Dobson in his hotel suite for a visit not limited by time. Dobson declined and asked McCain to come to Colorado Springs. McCain then also declined.
As the stalemate with Dobson continued, McCain had in his pocket an endorsement he had sought from popular televangelist Hagee. Founder and pastor of the Cornerstone mega church in San Antonio, Hagee endorsed McCain in a joint press conference Feb. 27. William Donahue, president of the Catholic League, immediately asked whether McCain agreed with Hagee's description of Catholicism as a "Godless theology." McCain started backing away, asserting his courtship of the pastor was "probably" a mistake.