Making Right Turn, McCain Embraces Falwell

ByABC News
April 14, 2006, 3:04 PM

April 14, 2006 — -- This week Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has been on a tour of key states like Iowa and New Hampshire, apparently laying the groundwork for a possible presidential campaign.

In 2000, McCain ran for president as a different kind of politician. "We're on a bus called the Straight Talk Express," he said at the time. "I gotta give you the straight talk."

Straight talk meant taking on powerful Christian conservatives such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

"Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan and Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right," McCain said in 2000.

Six years later, it is difficult to get a straight answer from McCain about his decision to deliver the commencement address at Liberty University, which Falwell founded.

When asked by ABC News if he thinks Falwell has changed, McCain said: "Rev. Falwell came to my office and said that he wanted to put our differences behind us. I was glad to do that."

When asked if he takes back his earlier statement that Falwell was an agent of intolerance, McCain said, "I will continue to have disagreements with Rev. Falwell, and I hope that there will be areas where we can agree."

Since McCain denounced him in 2000, Falwell has said that Jews can't go to heaven unless they accept Christ, that the Prophet Mohammed was a terrorist and that gays and feminists bore responsibility for 9/11.

McCain said speaking at Liberty University does not mean he endorses Falwell's views. He's also speaking at liberal universities despite disagreeing with their policies that bar military recruiters.

"I'm not trying to make up to anyone, either liberal or conservative or anyone else," McCain said.

But political watchers -- and even Falwell -- say McCain is trying to repair relations with the religious right to boost his chances of winning the Republican Party's nomination.

"I do think, like any wise politician moving toward a presidential election, he is trying to build alliances," Falwell said.