McCain Woos the Right, Makes Peace With Falwell

ByABC News
March 28, 2006, 8:06 PM

March 28, 2006 — -- Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., still breaks from GOP orthodoxy on such issues as torture and immigration. But operating below the radar, the potential Republican presidential hopeful is taking steps to win over the conservatives who denied him the GOP's presidential nomination in 2000.

His efforts have paid off with at least one prominent conservative.

"I think he is genuinely a state's righter -- and so am I," the Rev. Jerry Falwell told ABC News.

When McCain ran for president the last time, he denounced Falwell as one of America's "agents of intolerance." But now that McCain is gearing up to run for president as the GOP's establishment candidate, he has told Falwell that he spoke "in haste" in 2000.

"It just came down to pure old politics in South Carolina and other states," Falwell said.

Falwell and McCain first made peace in a face-to-face meeting a few months ago. In a sign of their improved relationship, McCain has agreed to be the graduation speaker at Falwell's Liberty University on May 13.

When McCain accepted an invitation to be Liberty University's graduation speaker, he spoke with Falwell by phone about the marriage issue.

According to Falwell, McCain is not pushing for a federal marriage amendment at this time. But McCain "reconfirmed" to Falwell that he would support a federal constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman if a federal court were to strike down state constitutional bans on gay marriage.

McCain's outreach to conservatives on marriage is politically important because of the way he sharply denounced a federal constitutional ban on gay marriage when it was considered in 2004. McCain called it "antithetical in every way to the core philosophy of Republicans" because it "usurps from the states a fundamental authority they have always possessed and imposes a federal remedy for a problem that most states do not believe confronts them."

Democrats wasted little time criticizing McCain's rapprochement with Falwell. Karen Finney, the Democratic National Committee's communications director, called it a "flip- flop."