ABC News’ Steven Portnoy Reports: Republican presidential campaigns raced to express their candidates’ sympathies for the death of Rev. Jerry Falwell a week ago Tuesday, but not one could fit Falwell’s funeral into their candidate’s schedule.
While former Virginia governor and Sen. George Allen R-Va., came to pay his respects with his wife, the most prominent current Republican office holder in attendance at the Thomas Road Baptist Church was probably Virginia’s attorney general, Bob McDonnell.
The White House sent Tim Goeglein, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Public Liaison, a mid-level aide who deals on behalf of the White House with special interest groups.
Goeglein, who said he last spoke with Falwell a month and a half ago, called the former Moral Majority leader a "great friend of this administration" and "a force of nature."
"On behalf of all of us in the Bush-Cheney White House, please know that we are holding you up in prayer, that we hold the Falwell family in very high regard," Goeglein said. "I have to say that in all my time in the White House, I have never met a man who loved God and country more than Jerry Falwell."
Goeglein ended his remarks by noting that he had recently informed Falwell of his lasting impact on the Bush administration.
"I was very pleased and honored to tell Jerry that Liberty University had come to the White House, that young men and women whom he had trained up had joined us as interns and staff. So, a man of vision has seen a vision fulfilled," Goeglein said.
The White House aide offered no explanation for Mr. Bush’s absence. The president had no public events on his schedule Tuesday.
President Bush’s image was notably missing from a photo montage of past Republican chief executives with whom Falwell had met. Mourners saw the reverend with Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. That last photograph was followed by a shot of Falwell on the set of Fox News’ "Hannity and Colmes."