- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

While Sen. John McCain‘s former vice presidential candidate has criticized his campaign recently for not sharing her religious fervor, the Arizona senator has nothing but kind words for the Alaska governor who electrified Republicans last year.

“Listen, I love and respect Sarah Palin,” the 2008 Republican presidential candidate said, speaking softly in an interview Friday with reporters and editors at The Washington Times. “I love her family. I am convinced that her running on the ticket energized the Republican Party in a way that, let’s have some straight talk, that I couldn’t or didn’t.”

Mrs. Palin, the self-described “hockey mom” whose evangelical Christianity often played a prominent role in her campaign, got a laugh when she told a Republican audience in Alaska earlier this month that there was “nobody I could find that I wanted to hold hands with and pray” with within the McCain campaign just before her vice presidential debate with then-Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat.

The governor later said she meant no disrespect, and Mr. McCain on Friday said he took no offense.

“I just read that in the press about not having someone to pray with in my campaign. Obviously, I was not with her, I was in Denver, as a matter of fact. But I thought she did a great job in that debate. I wish I had done as good a job in my debates as she did,” Mr. McCain said.

“I think she’s a woman, a person, of great principle. I will always appreciate her friendship. Will I always agree with everything she says? Of course not. She’s a very independent person. By the way, she and my daughter are in the same category,” he joked, referring to his outspoken daughter, Meghan.

Mr. McCain also put his former running mate in the top tier of Republicans queuing up for presidential runs in 2012 although he mentioned Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty four times, more often than anyone else.

“And, uh, who am I forgetting?” he asked. “Yeah, yeah, Mitt Romney, so many that Mike Huckabee there’s a bunch of voices out there that need to be heard,” he said, going on to urge Republicans to “let a thousand flowers bloom.”

But he also said that “it’s another year-and-a-half before we have our first big election” and that all of the 2012 talk is a bit premature: “People are saying, ‘Hey, give us a breather here. Let us relax a little bit.’”

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