Sen. John McCain yesterday renounced the endorsements of two influential televangelists - the Rev. John Hagee and Rod Parsley - who both had made inflammatory statements that liberals have been using to tar Mr. McCain.
Still the Arizona senator, in the latest sign of an increasingly testy campaign, took a sidelong shot at Sen. Barack Obama and his own former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Mr. McCain accepted Mr. Hagee's endorsement three months ago and, while rejecting some of Mr. Hagee's remarks, he had never repudiated his backing.
But new revelations about a sermon Mr. Hagee gave in the late 1990s saying Adolf Hitler was an agent of God in helping create Israel were a step too far for Mr. McCain.
"Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well," the presumptive Republican presidential nominee said in a statement yesterday afternoon.
Later yesterday, while campaigning in California, Mr. McCain also repudiated the support of Mr. Parsley, an Ohio preacher who has said the U.S. was founded to battle "the evil religion of Islam."
"I believe there is no place for that kind of dialogue in America, and I believe that even though he endorsed me, and I didn't endorse him, the fact is that I repudiate such talk, and I reject his endorsement," Mr. McCain told the Associated Press in an interview.
But Mr. McCain also had sharp words for Mr. Obama, his likely Democratic opponent in November.
"I have said I do not believe Senator Obama shares Reverend Wright's extreme views. But let me also be clear, Reverend Hagee was not and is not my pastor or spiritual adviser, and I did not attend his church for 20 years. I have denounced statements he made immediately upon learning of them, as I do again today," he said in the statement.
In the AP interview, he made a similar distinction: "[the] church I attend is North Phoenix Baptist Church; my pastor and spiritual guide is Pastor Dan Yeary. I've never been to Pastor Hagee's church or Pastor Parsley's church. I didn't attend their church for 20 years. I'm not a member of their church."
Mr. Obama distanced himself from his former pastor, who in sermons has called for God to condemn America and speculated AIDS was created by the U.S. government to kill blacks, although he only repudiated Mr. Wright after the pastor repeated those remarks at a National Press Club news conference.
Democrats have long demanded Mr. McCain repudiate Mr. Parsley and Mr. Hagee, the latter of whom has made derogatory comments about homosexuals and the Catholic Church. After coming under fire for the anti-Catholic remarks during this year's campaign, Mr. Hagee apologized.
Mr. Parsley has called Islam an "anti-Christ religion" and said "the fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed."
Mr. McCain accepted Mr. Hagee's endorsement in late February, just before the Texas primary and at the point when he was competing for evangelical Republican voters with former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor.
In the latest remarks, which gained attention after being posted May 15 on Talk2Action.org and then filtering to other Web sites, Mr. Hagee uses the book of Jeremiah to argue that God deployed Hitler to chase Jews to Israel.
"How did [the Holocaust] happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel," Mr. Hagee says in the sermon.
Mr. Hagee yesterday withdrew his McCain endorsement and any active role in the 2008 race, saying critics are "grossly misrepresenting my position on issues most near and dear to my heart."
"I am tired of these baseless attacks and fear that they have become a distraction in what should be a national debate about important issues," he said.
Bruce Wilson, who posted the Hagee sermon on Talk2Action, said Mr. McCain did the right thing: "In light of what I and others have characterized as anti-Semitic statements and writings from Pastor John Hagee, Arizona Senator John McCain has taken the appropriate action in renouncing Hagee's endorsement."
The Obama team had no immediate comment.
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