While it appears that Sen. John McCain has solidified support from evangelical Christian leaders, how solid that support is remains in doubt, particularly given the amount of time and energy Sen. Barack Obama and his campaign have dedicated to speaking to conservative religious leaders.
According to members of the conservative Arlington Group, which is made of leaders of some of the largest and most influential faith-based groups in the country and which withheld its endorsement for President during the Republican and Democrat primary seasons, Obama has been targeting members for some time, and some leaders have been coming away impressed.
"[Obama] speaks our language. He seems more comfortable with his faith. Jesus' name rolls off his tongue, as do some of the phrases people of faith tend to use in these meetings," says an Arlington Group staffer with knowledge of the meetings. "The same cannot be said of McCain. The only Republican who has come close to being this impressive in private meetings was Mitt Romney, but you never heard our membership say they thought Romney was an acceptable choice. You are hearing that from some of our membership when Obama's name is mentioned. It's surreal."
That's not to say that McCain hasn't made strides of late. He has intentionally not sought very public support from evangelical leaders in an attempt to build support among independents, who aren't likely to go for someone openly aligned with the hard right. Instead, McCain has smartly used surrogates such as Sen. Sam Brownback, a Catholic convert, and former Sen. Fred Thompson, who gave the keynote at the National Right to Life convention last week, to build support for his candidacy among the evangelicals who make up the conservative base in the GOP.
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist's recent engagement announcement comes at a time when McCain staffers are stepping up the vetting of possible vice-presidential nominees. Crist, who regardless of whether he is on a McCain ticket or not, is seen as critical to the candidate's chances of winning the White House given the importance of Florida to GOP prospects.
Crist's bachelorhood has long been up for discussion in Washington political salons, and engagement to Carole Rome, a 38-year-old mother of two, is only going to increase talk. Crist's bachelorhood isn't only being discussed in Washington. It was a point of conversation among some of the GOP leaders who gathered at McCain's Sedona ranch six weeks ago for what was billed as a "veep sweepstakes weekend" by some in the media.
"He was the only bachelor there, and it was topic of discussion," says an attendee at Sedona. "His companion was younger than just about everyone other than [Louisiana Gov. Bobby] Jindal."
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