ABC News’ Teddy Davis, Hope Ditto and Rigel Anderson report: The pastor who officiated Jenna Bush’s wedding ripped into Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., on Friday for jokingly volunteering his wife last week for a beauty pageant that often features contestants topless.
"Well, I don’t know a lot about John McCain’s family history, I do know, however, that as recently as last week I think it was, the senator made a comment in South Dakota regarding his wife entering some Buffalo Chips contest which is this topless deal and if she were to enter she would probably win it and my personal opinion and based on my understanding of the Christian faith, that’s not, not, N-O-T, not the type of expression that a presidential candidate, or anyone for that matter who is a follower of the Christian faith, ought to make," said the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell. "I don’t know if that is a perfect case in point, but it surely does help to juxtapose the DNA of Senator Obama, if you would, versus the DNA of Senator McCain."
Asked if McCain was unaware that the Buffalo Chips contest often features contestants topless, a McCain aide told ABC News that he believes the senator was aware but emphasized that the presumptive GOP nominee was joking and would not want his wife to participate in such a contest.
Caldwell, a close personal friend of President Bush who supports Obama for president, is the senior pastor at Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston. Caldwell made his comments on a conference call with reporters sponsored by the Matthew 25 Network, a liberal Christian Group. Matthew 25 is planning to air a pro-Obama ad on Saturday during the Rick Warren forum with Obama and McCain. The ad will air on CNN and possibly MSNBC, according to the group’s spokesperson.
Caldwell said that McCain’s Buffalo Chips comment stood in stark contrast with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., whom Caldwell sees as a good family man supporting pro-family policies.
Caldwell then invoked comments that Rick Warren made about adultery in a Thursday interview with ABC News’ Jake Tapper to raise additional questions about McCain.
"His marital history has been duly recorded," said Caldwell, referring to McCain, "and as recently as yesterday I think it is, our pastor from Saddleback, Rick Warren indicated that he would not feel comfortable voting for an adulterer and I don’t know exactly to whom he was referring but I think the data speaks for itself, and again, at the end of the day, and I really appreciate you raising this because, at the end of the day again I think the American public deserves full revelation of the candidate’s character and competency. Character and competency. So, whatever questions that should be asked that would give the voting public an indication as to who they are and what they’ve done should be fair game."
Asked by ABC’s Tapper in the context of John Edwards if he would have compunctions about voting for someone who had cheated on his wife, Warren said, "Absolutely I would. Absolutely I would. Because if you can’t keep your faith to your most sacred vow – ‘’til death do us part’ — how in the world can I trust you to lead my family? My government? My nation? . . . Absolutely I would. I think people first need to ask forgiveness and then earn trust back over time Can trust be re-earned? Absolutely but it takes time."
In "Worth the Fighting For," McCain wrote that the collapse of his first marriage was attributable to his own "selfishness and immaturity."
"The blame was entirely mine," wrote McCain.
A McCain spokesman had no immediate reaction when asked about Caldwell’s criticism.
McCain spokesman Brian Rogers has responded to Caldwell’s criticism by saying, "These people are Obama campaign surrogates. These kinds of personal attacks are disgraceful. This absolutely exposes the hypocrisy of Obama’s claim to represent a ‘new kind of politics.’"
A Republican strategist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, reacted to the Caldwell comments by telling ABC News, "My advice to the Obama people: ‘Proceed with extreme caution.’ They don’t want to get into a discussion of character and background. They are opening a door that they will not be able to close. They are putting on the table issues and personalities that they do not want to discuss."
Asked which personalities? The GOP strategist cited the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Tony Rezko and former Obama law partners.
The Obama campaign had no immediate reaction to Caldwell’s comments or the McCain campaign response.
Former Ark. Gov. Mike Huckabee defended McCain on Friday in Washington, D.C., in response to remarks made earlier by Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell.
"First of all," said Huckabee, "Sen. McCain has a great sense of humor like mine but sometimes it does not go over as well as we hope. I know a little bit about that.
"But I also believe," Huckabee continued, "that Sen. McCain has been very honest about his life and about not only who he was but I think very refreshingly who he is. And the one thing I find about Sen. McCain is that he is a man of honor. I said that on the debate stage even when I was his political opponent. I still say that today."
He added, "This is the kind of conversation that makes up a political campaign. People digging as deep as they can to find some little nugget to elevate and to amplify and that is what that is about. But I don’t think anyone who has ever been around John McCain would accuse him of being a person who did not have respect for his wife."
Huckabee made his remarks at a press conference held by TheCall, a prayer group that is holding a fast in the nation’s capital on Aug. 16. The group calls on its members to live a lifestyle of "purity and godliness."