Sunday, February 27, 2000

McCain blasts foes' 'underhanded stunts'

Candidate angry with some tactics of Bush supporters

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        John McCain, on a three-city Ohio campaign tour Saturday, said he won't let George W. Bush and his supporters “pull the kind of underhanded stunts” he claims they did in earlier primaries.

        “People are catching on to what that (Bush) campaign is all about,” Mr. McCain told The Cincinnati Enquirer on Saturday in Columbus.

        In an interview with the Enquirer and, later, with a half-dozen Ohio reporters as the McCain “Straight Talk Express” made its way down Interstate 71 to Cincinnati, the Arizona senator was harsh in his criticism of the Bush campaign's methods of stirring up Christian conservative voters in South Carolina, where Mr. McCain lost the primary to Mr. Bush.

        “There were all these phone calls going out all over the state, crazy stuff,” Mr. McCain said. “It was awful.”

        Mr. Bush, a week before the primary, made a trip to Bob Jones University in South Carolina, a Christian college that has stirred controversy because it bans interracial dating and because its president, Bob Jones III, has been accused of being anti-Catholic.

        “In South Carolina, you had this guy, this professor, at Bob Jones University sending thousands of e-mails all over the state saying I had fathered an illegitimate child,” Mr. McCain said, with his wife, Cindy, sitting across the aisle on the campaign bus.

        Mr. McCain said the professor later said he was referring to the 8-year-old Sri Lankan girl the McCains adopted several years ago.

        “It's disgusting, despicable stuff,” Mr. McCain said.

Sophisticated voters
        In Michigan, where Mr. McCain won a primary victory, TV evangelist Pat Robertson's organization flooded the state with thousands of recorded phone calls saying Mr. McCain was a threat to Christian moral values.

        Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain said, “has wrapped himself around Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and now he's going to have to carry them through the rest of this campaign.”

        “Pandering” to the Christian conservative wing of the party won't work in March 7 primary states, such as California, New York and Ohio, Mr. McCain said.

        “I'm no expert on Ohio voters, but (U.S. Sen.) Mike DeWine tells me that there is a pretty fair level of sophistication among Ohio voters,” Mr. McCain said. “A Pat Robertson phone call is not going to make much of a difference.”

        On the bus ride to Cincinnati, the candidate munched on Girl Scout cookies, sipped bottled water and fielded a nonstop barrage of questions from Ohio reporters.

        Asked if he knew what Mr. Bush meant when he called himself a “compassionate conservative,” the candidate laughed.

        “Compassionate conservative, that was last week,” Mr. McCain said. “This week it's "a reformer with results.' Next week, it will be a "Texan with tenacity.' I can't keep track of it.”

        Mr. McCain said he could not explain his appeal in the early primaries to Democratic and indepen dent voters who do not necessarily agree with many of his conservative Republican positions on issues. “Maybe people are looking for something more in a president,” he said. “Maybe they are looking for someone who they can believe.”

A job for Taft
        Asked about a flap in Cleveland, where aides to Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, a Bush supporter, are said to have persuaded Cuyahoga County Republican Party officials to rescind their invitation to Mr. McCain to speak at a party dinner, the candidate laughed. He said he hopes Mr. Taft “will invite me back to Ohio when I'm president.”

        “I'm not mad at the governor; he's still on my short list for postmaster general,” he joked.

Borgman cartoon

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