Thursday, July 3, 2008

McCain Meets Billy Graham

New York Times Article

McCain Gets Praise, Not Backing, From Grahams
Senator John McCain, who has had trouble courting faith-based voters, went to the mountaintop on Sunday — Billy Graham’s Blue Ridge mountaintop retreat in western North Carolina, that is — and met with the evangelist and his son the Rev. Franklin Graham for a private, 45-minute conversation.

There were no endorsements after the meeting at the rustic retreat, called Little Piney Cove, and both sides portrayed it as nonpolitical — just a chance to talk over old times and pray for God’s blessing on the presidential election and the candidates. But afterward, there were encomiums all around.

Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, had requested the meeting with the Grahams. He called his hosts “great leaders” and said they had had “an excellent conversation.” In response to a reporter’s question, he said, as if slightly surprised: “Oh, I didn’t ask for their vote.”

Billy Graham, 89, who has counseled American presidents for the last half-century and is an enormously influential voice among millions of evangelical and born-again Christians, has been in poor health and made no statement.

But Franklin Graham, who met last week with Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, the likely Democratic nominee, issued a statement praising Mr. McCain. “I was impressed by his personal faith and his moral clarity on important social issues facing America today,” said Mr. Graham, who noted that he and Mr. McCain, of Arizona, have sons serving in the military.

Franklin Graham, chief executive of the evangelistic association his father founded in 1950, and Mr. McCain recalled a story Billy Graham had told about meeting the senator’s father, a Navy admiral, and mother in Hawaii when Mr. McCain was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “He visited my parents in Hawaii twice,” Mr. McCain said, “and he and my mother and father prayed together for me.”

“We had an opportunity to pray for the senator and his family, and for God’s will to be done in this upcoming election,” Franklin Graham said. Though he was not endorsing anyone, he said he was urging “men and women of faith everywhere” to “vote for the candidate at every level who best represents their values and convictions.”

Christian conservatives, who supported President Bush by huge margins in 2000 and 2004, have been slow to embrace Mr. McCain, who seems uncomfortable talking about religion and recently upset many of his supporters by denouncing the Rev. John Hagee and the Rev. Rod Parsley, prominent evangelical leaders, after controversial statements they made became public.

Mr. McCain, needing to regain ground with the religious right and reassure skeptical conservatives, had gone to some lengths to meet with the Grahams. He flew from Louisville, Ky., to Asheville, N.C., and drove an hour to the Graham retreat near Montreat, N.C., on a Sunday, when he often takes a break from the campaign trail.

Mr. Obama spent the day in Chicago, with his family.

The large brown-shingled cabin, up a long winding road, looked modest from the outside, with its tall, rough-hewn chimney, a screen door and an old iron wheel at the front door, according to an account from a pool reporter perched outside. But its living room commands a sweeping view of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The country singer Ricky Skaggs — grizzled, gray-haired — was scheduled to have lunch with the Grahams and arrived about a half-hour after Mr. McCain, who noted later that he had met Billy Graham before but that this had been his “first sit-down meeting” with the evangelist.

After insisting he had not sought their backing, Mr. McCain was asked why he had requested the meeting. “As I say,” he said, “they’ve known my family, they’ve known me for many years. They’re great leaders in this nation, and I appreciate the opportunity to visit with them and I am very grateful for the time they spent with me.”

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