McCain Will Compare Religious Conservatives to "Union Bosses

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:25 PM EDT

( - Republican presidential hopeful John McCain will take on the "religious right" Monday, singling out televangelist Pat Robertson as someone who puts personal political ambition ahead of conservative causes.

McCain's rebuke of Robertson will come in Robertson's own backyard - Virginia Beach. During his Monday campaign stop there, McCain reportedly will make the case that some religious conservatives are no better than "union bosses" who try to perpetuate their own power at all costs.

McCain's pointed effort to distance himself from religious conservatives may help him with the moderate Republicans, Independents and Democrats he needs to keep his campaign moving forward. He never had the support of religious conservatives anyway.

McCain has personal reasons for attacking Pat Robertson. In the days leading up to the Michigan primary, Robertson taped a strongly worded phone message on behalf of George W. Bush, calling McCain's campaign co-chairman, former Sen. Warren Rudman, a "vicious bigot."

In the prerecorded message played to Michigan voters, Robertson blasts McCain as "a man who chose as his national campaign chairman a vicious bigot who wrote that conservative Christians in politics are antiabortion zealots, homophobes and would-be-censors. John McCain refused to repudiate these words."

The McCain campaign struck back in Michigan, with a prerecorded "Catholic voter alert." The message said, "Several weeks ago, Gov. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University in South Carolina. Bob Jones has made strong anti-Catholic statements, including calling the Pope the Anti-Christ and the Catholic Church a satanic cult. John McCain, a pro-life senator, has strongly criticized this anti-Catholic bigotry, while Gov. Bush has stayed silent while gaining the support of Bob Jones University."

McCain at first denied any involvement with the calls, but several days later he admitted that he had approved the telephone campaign used in Michigan.

Robertson, the head of the Christian Coalition, recently commented that it "could devastate the Republican Party" if McCain wins the Republican presidential nomination.

Robertson is especially opposed to McCain's position on campaign finance reform. Robertson said that eliminating so-called soft money from politics, while allowing labor unions to continue contributing to political campaigns, represents a "grave danger ahead for the Republican Party."

McCain's expected attack on Robertson comes as Bush continues managing the fallout from his visit to Bob Jones University. In a letter hand-delivered to Cardinal John O'Connor on Saturday, Bush told the leader of New York's Catholics that he has "profound respect" for the Roman Catholic Church.

"On reflection, I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice," Bush said. "It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret."

Bush's campaign released the letter he wrote to Cardinal O'Connor on Sunday.