- The Washington Times - Friday, February 25, 2000

The ugly underside of the Republican presidential campaign has moved from Michigan to Virginia.

Arizona Sen. John McCain charged Thursday that the Christian Coalition continues to make recorded telephone calls on behalf of Texas Gov. George W. Bush. In the calls, Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition, labels McCain campaign chairman Warren Rudman "a vicious bigot."

"I think it's disgraceful," Mr. McCain told NBC's "Today" show Thursday. "I think it is conduct Governor Bush could stop and it again shows" that Mr. Bush "wants to win in the worst way."

Ray Allen Jr., a Bush campaign operative in Virginia, denied that the Christian Coalition is making such calls.

"There are no calls going on in Virginia of that nature," said Mr. Allen, a political lieutenant for Gov. James S. Gilmore III. "This is just the latest dirty trick the McCain operation is doing."

The angry exchange comes as the race tightens five days before Tuesday's primary. Mr. McCain has cut Mr. Bush's lead to 11 points in a statewide poll to be released Friday, Republican operatives said.

Mr. Gilmore took aim at Mr. McCain's campaign tactics. The governor criticized calls the Arizona senator's staff made in Michigan that accused the Texas governor of anti-Catholic bias. There is no sign McCain aides are making such calls in Virginia.

"I urge Senator McCain to run a positive campaign based on the issues," Mr. Gilmore said in a statement. "Any attempts to play to voter fears through misinformation are wrong and the opposite of what the McCain campaign has pledged."

Mr. Bush will campaign Friday across Virginia. Aides planned an airport rally in Tidewater, a stop at America Online near Washington Dulles International Airport and a speech at a Republican fund-raising gala in Richmond.

Virginia Attorney General Mark L. Earley, a likely Republican candidate for governor in 2001, will endorse Mr. Bush Friday in Newport News. He joins the rest of the state's Republican hierarchy in backing Mr. Bush.

Mr. McCain plans a town-hall meeting Monday in Newport News or Virginia Beach.

Mr. Rudman criticized some religious conservatives in his 1996 memoir titled "Combat: Twelve Years in the U.S. Senate."

In Michigan, the Christian Coalition sent the Robertson recording to thousands of its members. Mr. Robertson called Mr. Rudman "a vicious bigot who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are anti-abortion zealots, homophobes and would-be censors."

Bush aides have urged Mr. Robertson to halt the anti-Rudman calls, two Virginia Republican operatives said Thursday. One suggested that the Christian Coalition may have started making the calls in Virginia and then stopped.

"The Bush camp has talked to Robertson, and Robertson's people say they're not doing it," one Republican operative said.

"We've been clear with Pat," another member of the Bush camp said. "If he's doing them, he's doing them against our wishes."

The Christian Coalition did not return calls seeking comment.

Mr. McCain's staff admits it paid for "Catholic Voter Alert" calls in Michigan. Those calls accused Mr. Bush of "seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views" by speaking at Bob Jones University in South Carolina.

Mr. Bush this week decried the McCain calls as "shameful politics."

Mr. Earley, the Virginia attorney general, said Mr. Bush's commitment to rebuild the military is good for Virginia's economy. He said Mr. Bush has a better understanding of Virginia tobacco farmers' plight than Mr. McCain, chief sponsor of the failed federal anti-tobacco legislation.

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Gilmore said he is not worried that Democrats and independents will derail Mr. Bush Tuesday in Virginia.

"I'm not worried about it. As a matter of fact, we welcome everybody coming over into the Republican primary," Mr. Gilmore said on his monthly radio show in Richmond.

But he encouraged voters to support the Republican nominee in November.

"If you want to come in and participate in the Republican selection process, we expect you to be fish or fowl, one or the other," Mr. Gilmore said.

Mr. McCain's younger brother, Joe McCain of Fairfax County, and three former prisoners of war Thursday urged Mr. Bush to drop veterans activist J. Thomas Burch Jr. from his advisory council.

Mr. Burch charged during a South Carolina campaign appearance with Mr. Bush that Mr. McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, has forsaken veterans as a member of the Senate.

The former POWs made the request in a letter they left at the governor's office in Richmond.

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