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News: The Party Line

In a recent interview with Beliefnet.com, Senator John McCain (who is one of the leading candidates vying for the Republican presidential nomination) was asked if he thought the Constitution establishes the United States as a “Christian nation.” McCain answered that “in the broadest sense,” he agrees that America was founded as a Christian country. He also said that though he would vote for a qualified Muslim candidate in the right circumstance, “I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.” (You can go here to read the entire interview, in which Senator McCain discusses his Christian faith, the role it plays in his politics and his ideas about religion in politics.)

His comments quickly drew heavy criticism from Jewish and Muslim groups who disagreed with his assertion that referred to America a “Christian nation.” One advocate even called for the Republican party to denounce the comments, calling them “repugnant” and accusing McCain of being a “religious right mouthpiece.” But in an election season where both parties’ candidates are using their professions of faith in speeches and debates, the American people appear to still be divided on what role faith plays in a candidate’s ability to lead the nation. Recent polls show that many Americans would side with McCain and would be uncomfortable voting for a candidate who is not a Christian. But new rumors show that one group of Christian leaders may choose to support a third-party candidate if issues such as abortion aren’t represented by the Republican nominee.

This story, which ran in this week’s New York Times blog, tells about a secret meeting of evangelical leaders (including Focus on the Family founder James Dobson)—a group that typically lends their support to conservative Republican leaders—that discussed the possibility of backing a third-party candidate if Rudy Giuliani (who is pro-choice) received the nomination. As the story points out, the setback could be devastating to the Giuliani campaign, with the majority of Republicans being classified as evangelical Protestants. And with many Christians maintaining a sense of disillusionment with politics (at least with mainline party politics), a third-party candidate may be a dark-horse factor in the upcoming election.

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