hageemccain.jpgThe New York Times notes today that John McCain’s camp has gone completely silent about its John Hagee endorsement since announcing it in San Antonio in February:

The McCain campaign sought Mr. Hagee’s support, Mr. Hagee said in a recent interview. But after the two announced the endorsement at an event on Feb. 27 in San Antonio, Mr. Hagee’s hometown, the campaign has stopped talking about it.
A spokeswoman answers questions by referring to a statement Mr. McCain made the day after the endorsement, when it was greeted with a barrage of criticism: “In no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.”
Mr. Hagee also declines to discuss the endorsement, and in interviews and during a conference call with reporters on Monday, he would not even say how it had come about. “For the present time for many reasons,” Mr. Hagee said in an interview late last month, “it is better that I don’t comment on the campaign in any way.”

All of which is understandable, given the controversy sparked by Hagee’s endorsement. This is the part that’s harder to believe:

The controversy surrounding Mr. Hagee seemed to take the McCain campaign by surprise, said David C. Leege, an expert on Catholic voters and an emeritus professor of political science at Notre Dame.
Mr. McCain began seeking Mr. Hagee’s endorsement more than a year ago, trying to bolster the campaign’s support among evangelical voters. Republican leaders are concerned that evangelicals will sit out the election in November, depriving Mr. McCain of votes that may be crucial to beating the Democratic nominee.

Even before getting his endorsement, McCain often cited Hagee as one of a handful of prominent evangelical figures who he was in frequent touch with. But the rap against Hagee as anti-Catholic is nothing new. There are obvious reasons that McCain’s people missed it. Until recently, McCain’s team had gotten so thin that vetting endorsements was a luxury. And McCain was so eager to reverse his image as Christian Right scourge that he probably cast too wide a net.
To prevent such gaffes in the future, McCain needs to get his religious outreach team in order. Such a group would have seen this problem coming a mile off. A McCain aide told God-o-Meter this week that the campaign is still in hiring phase for its religious outreach effort. The Democratic candidates, meanwhile, have had their teams in place for more than a year. It’s April. McCain buttoned up the nomination two months ago. The GOP has been more dependent on religious voters than the Democrats for 25 years. What’s the holdup?


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