The McCains Talk Family Values in S.C.
By Juliet Eilperin
COLUMBIA, S.C. -- When Cindy McCain introduces her husband, she usually starts out by telling audiences about how she reluctantly agreed to let him run for president again for the sake of their two sons serving in the military, as well as others serving overseas. However this afternoon, she spoke of how 15 years ago she brought a Bangladeshi infant back to the U.S. at Mother Teresa's request, and ended up incorporating her in the McCain family.
On the flight between Bangkok and Los Angeles, she recalled at a rally just a few blocks from the state capitol, "I decided I couldn't give this little girl up. She had chosen me." So when she touched down in Phoenix and greeted her husband, she informed him they were going to adopt the baby. "He just smiled," she said, remembering how they chose their youngest child, Bridget. "He is a remarkable man. He has an open heart. He puts the family first."
In a state where social conservatives represent roughly half the GOP electorate, McCain's campaign is retooling its message. While McCain and his supporters still speak of his commitment to national security and the war in Iraq, they are also talking more about his family values and his concern for the economy.
In his speech this afternoon, McCain touted the social conservative credentials of two of his high-profile backers, GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Tom Coburn (Okla.). Coburn, he said, "is a practicing physician who has delivered thousands of babies. He is our moral compass, and our guide, in the Senate." Graham, he added, played a pivotal role in putting two conservatives on the Supreme Court bench, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, "judges who strictly interpret the Constitution and do not legislate from the bench."
And Graham repaid the compliment, telling the crowd that McCain's electability will help ensure conservatives' domination of the federal courts. "You want conservative judges? You need a conservative you can pick 'em."
GOP State Sen. Mike Fair informed the crowd that when it came to issues such as abortion and gay rights, McCain shared their conservative views. "He gets it right on pro-life," Fair said. "He gets it right on family values."
When it comes to wooing religious voters in South Carolina, McCain faces serious competition from former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson, both of whom are touting their social conservative credentials. Alan Wolfe, who directs Boston College's Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, said he has spoken to several evangelical leaders who find Thompson appealing.
"They say, southern Baptists know one when they see one," Wolfe said. "Thompson sort of looks the part."
And while Huckabee enjoys a significant following among white evangelical Protestants in South Carolina as well as elsewhere in the U.S., Wolfe cautioned that both his economic populist message, and the extent to which he fits the evangelical stereotype, may put off some South Carolinians.
"We're talking about suburban, upwardly-mobile professionals whose economics drive their votes more than religion," Wolfe said.
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