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McCain seeks support from GOP faithful: 600 words

c. 2008 Religion News Service NEW ORLEANS _ Sen. John McCain sought support among conservative true believers Friday (March 7) in New Orleans, reaching to enlist them in his campaign days after securing the Republican presidential nomination. “We’ve got to get our base moving again,” he told a meeting of the Council for National Policy […]

c. 2008 Religion News Service

NEW ORLEANS _ Sen. John McCain sought support among conservative true believers Friday (March 7) in New Orleans, reaching to enlist them in his campaign days after securing the Republican presidential nomination.

“We’ve got to get our base moving again,” he told a meeting of the Council for National Policy at the Ritz Carlton Hotel.

The Arizona senator effectively secured the nomination without the support of conservatism’s biggest voices, including skeptics like Focus on the Family leader James Dobson and talk radio host Rush Limbaugh.

So before the invitation-only audience of more than 400 influential social conservatives attending the New Orleans meeting, McCain sought to mend fences.

He sketched himself as one of them: an anti-abortion candidate who would defend traditional marriage, curtail federal spending, support strict-constructionist Supreme Court justices, secure the country’s borders, make President Bush’s tax cuts permanent and continue to confront al-Qaida in Iraq.

“The transcendent challenge for the 21st century is radical Islam,” he said.

But McCain did not back off his avowed determination to explore alternative energy sources, partly as a response to global warming _ the existence of which he acknowledged was a controversial position with much of his audience.

“Suppose I’m wrong and climate change is not taking place,” he said. “All we’ve done and given our kids is a greener world.”

He also seemed to duck a direct request to discuss his belief in God. Instead, he repeated a story of a secret kindness shown him by a Christian North Vietnamese prison guard during a period of prolonged torture.

With an invitation-only membership whose names typically are not made public, the Council for National Policy was formed in 1981. It calls meetings a few times a year and has met with other major Republican candidates for president during the primary race.

Although the group takes no public political stands, its members are viewed as influential in conservative circles _ and are almost uniformly unavailable for on-the-record interviews.

“He’s got a lot of work ahead of him,” said Steve Baldwin, the group’s executive director, as he paused between meetings at the hotel.

In short remarks before taking questions, McCain assured the audience he is an authentic conservative Republican.

He pointed to his anti-abortion record, but he never mentioned a common conservative goal of overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.

“We have to work to change the culture of America to protect the rights of the unborn. That’s how we will ultimately succeed,” he said.

He promised to support efforts on some states’ 2008 ballots to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and to appoint Supreme Court justices who “will not legislate from the bench.”

He said Republicans lost control of Congress in 2006 not because of voter dissatisfaction with the Iraq war, but because “we let spending get out of control.” He promised to veto the first bill arriving at his desk bearing an earmark, or an appropriation linked to a specific project with a political sponsor.

He pronounced the Bush administration’s military strategy of reinforcing troops in Iraq a success.

“The surge is succeeding with one of the greatest generals in American history,” he said, adding that setting a date to pull out of Iraq or Afghanistan would be disastrous.

(Bruce Nolan and Michelle Hunter write for The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.)

DSB/PH END NOLAN