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McClatchy Newspapers - McCain Reaching Out to Christian Conservative Base

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McClatchy Newspapers - McCain Reaching Out to Christian Conservative Base

By Matt Stearns

In his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Arizona Sen. John McCain is reaching out to conservative Christians, and many of them want to know how much McCain reaches out to God.

McCain has written movingly of how his faith helped him survive 5 ( years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, but he says little about the current role of religion in his life.

"I think it's something between me and my creator," McCain said in an interview with McClatchy Newspapers. "It's primarily a private issue rather than a public one. ... When I'm asked about it, I'll be glad to discuss it. I just don't bring it up."

But in an era in which the Republican Party has become heavily dependent on conservative evangelical Christian voters conditioned to eight years of overt faith talk from many GOP politicians, including President Bush, some want McCain to deliver a more open discussion of his faith. Even Democrats, long regarded as the more secular party, this year have seen its leading presidential candidates openly discuss the importance of their faith.

McCain "seems to have a difficulty in discussing it in terms that people relate to," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a leading conservative evangelical organization. "I think people want a sense of where someone stands in their relationship with the Lord. I think George Bush was able to do that in the way he communicated, using terms that evangelicals are familiar with."

Many who agree with McCain's comprehensive approach to an immigration overhaul, such as Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., routinely invoke biblical imperatives in defending their stance. McCain doesn't.

Perkins and Gary Bauer, both key players in advancing the Christian conservative agenda in Washington, said they knew virtually nothing about McCain's religious life.

Pressed on the issue in the interview, the normally garrulous McCain haltingly - "I just pray the way most people pray" - but convincingly described a rich and fulfilling spiritual life.

Learned in childhood. Deepened in Vietnam. Nourished today by a redemptive Baptist church, daily prayer, generally in the evening, sometimes holding hands with wife Cindy, occasionally reading a family Bible, always seeking "guidance, comfort and wisdom in almost every aspect of my life."

McCain was raised an Episcopalian in a family that "observed our faith openly and without reservation."

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