Cover Story

Maverick man

"Maverick man" Continued...

Issue: "Not angry anymore," Dec. 1, 2007

When reporters pressed McCain on his denominational affiliation, McCain said: "The most important thing is I am a Christian." But the senator seemed uncomfortable discussing what that means in his personal life: "It plays a role in my life. . . . Do I advertise my faith? Do I talk about it all the time? No."

McCain is talking more about issues that resonate with social conservatives like traditional marriage and abortion. McCain says he is committed to "the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman." And he constantly reminds voters of his consistent pro-life voting record.

But some social conservatives find gaps in McCain's positions: They complain that he voted against a Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA) to protect traditional marriage, and they vigorously disagree with his support for embryonic stem-cell research.

On protecting traditional marriage, McCain says the issue should be left up to the states. (Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson holds a similar position.) On embryonic stem-cell research, McCain says he believes that life begins at conception, but "the Bible also tells us to heal the sick."

Another McCain policy riles some evangelicals even more than the typical hot-button issues: campaign finance reform. The Senate passed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law in 2002 after years of rancorous debate. Among other provisions, the legislation curtails attempts by nonprofit organizations to influence voters toward particular candidates for the 60 days prior to an election.

Conservatives and liberals alike have assailed the legislation as an attack on freedom of speech, but McCain is unapologetic: "I believe that money is power, and it buys you a bigger megaphone. I think we ought to give every American an equal voice in the government."

McCain told WORLD he knows the legislation is a point of contention with some evangelical leaders, but said: "If they think that's the overriding issue and qualification to be president, then I respect their support of another candidate."

Some evangelicals have looked at McCain's positives. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission noted McCain's contrition for his failed first marriage: "John McCain has acknowledged that he was unfaithful, and it was a major cause of the breakup of his marriage. He's expressed regret for that. . . . He has been in a second marriage now for more than 20 years."

But Land added that McCain's broad-ranging political views make some conservatives nervous: "It's that kind of uncomfortability with his unpredictability-the maverick nature that makes him so popular with independents-that gives conservatives pause."

Earlier this month, Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., a pro-life Catholic with strong backing from evangelicals, endorsed the senator. The endorsement was a huge boost for McCain and led some conservative Christians to give his record a second look.

They've seen that McCain, a vocal opponent of pork-barrel projects and wasteful government spending, also voted against Bush's tax cuts, complaining of "a wealth gap that worries me." McCain has called for costly legislation to fight global warming: "The world is already feeling the powerful effects of global warming, and far more dire consequences are predicted if we let the growing deluge of greenhouse gas emissions continue, and wreak havoc with God's creation."

Whether global warming has wreaked havoc on the earth is debatable, but there's one issue that has undeniably wreaked havoc on McCain's presidential campaign: the war in Iraq. More than any other issue, McCain's support for the war has the potential both to bring him conservative support and to sink his White House bid.

McCain supported the invasion of Iraq but quickly criticized the Bush administration's strategy. In 2004, McCain warned that the military didn't have enough forces on the ground to complete the mission. As the situation in Iraq deteriorated, McCain suggested a surge in troops. Bush eventually agreed, and the troop surge began last year.

McCain's criticism for the Bush administration has been intense: "I think that Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense." But McCain insists America needs to stay in Iraq: "If we leave, chaos and genocide will ensue."

McCain's refusal to back down as the war's popularity among Americans plummeted has cost him support: "It's hurt me enormously," he told WORLD, "but I'd rather win a war than a campaign."

In the meantime, the retired naval aviator wears a daily reminder of the war's toll: A black metal bracelet around his right wrist bears the name and picture of Cpl. Matthew Stanley, a 22-year-old soldier killed in Iraq last December.

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