Oh Jesus! McCain backtracks on Bob Jones U.

Republican Sen. John McCain says he would consider speaking at Bob Jones University, a school he criticized during the 2000 presidential campaign for its ban on interracial dating and anti-Catholic views.

“I can’t remember when I’ve turned down a speaking invitation. I think I’d have to look at it,” McCain told The State newspaper in South Carolina.

The potential 2008 presidential candidate and Arizona senator said he would have to look at Bob Jones University’s latest policy statements. “I understand they have made considerable progress,” he said.

In 2000, McCain assailed the Christian fundamentalist school for its policies and rival George W. Bush for speaking there. During a debate, McCain said that if he were invited, he would have gone to the school and said, “Look, what your doing in this ban on interracial dating is stupid, it’s idiotic, and it is incredibly cruel to many people.”

Bush defended his speech there but later wrote Cardinal John O’Connor of New York and said he deeply regretted “causing needless offense” by not more clearly “disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice.”

Mike Dennehy, senior strategist for McCain’s political action committee Straight Talk America, said McCain has not asked to speak at the school and has no immediate plans to do so.

Bob Jones spokesman Jonathan Pait said no invitations have been made at this stage in the presidential campaign. McCain and other Republicans have traveled to South Carolina to campaign for 2006 candidates and meet GOP officials, building support for potential White House bids.

Since 2000, Bob Jones has lifted its interracial dating ban and has a new leader. School president Stephen Jones is the youngest son of Bob Jones III, who retired last year after running the school since 1971.

Some say the school has muted its Catholic sentiment, but Pait said, “We haven’t changed our position at all” on the ideological merits of Catholicism versus Protestantism.

“We don’t hate Catholics,” he said. “We certainly disagree with Catholicism, but I think it’s going a bit far to say it’s anti-Catholic.”

McCain has reached out to conservatives he once crossed. In May, he spoke at Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University in Virginia. In 2000, Falwell opposed McCain’s campaign for the GOP nomination and supported Bush. At the time, McCain labeled Falwell and others on the right and the left as “agents of intolerance.”

An Hispanic lawmaker called on Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee to denounce a Republican-backed television ad criticizing a rival’s record on national security and immigration.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee backs Chafee over Cranston Mayor Stephen Laffey in what is shaping up as a close Sept. 12 GOP primary.

The group’s latest ad singles out Laffey because Cranston accepts foreign identification cards from Mexico. Laffey announced last year that the city would accept the identification cards that Mexico and Guatemala issued to their citizens living abroad.

The ad shows Hispanic men being herded into van by a law enforcement agent and says immigrants can use fake cards to get driver’s licenses, enter government buildings and board planes.

Democratic state Sen. Juan Pichardo sent Chafee a letter dated Friday asking him to renounce the spot.

“The ad’s script and imagery are clearly meant to engender fear that, as a group, Hispanic immigrants present a threat to the security of Rhode Island and the nation,” he wrote. “I am deeply concerned that as a result, the ad will unfairly create feelings of prejudice and suspicion toward the Hispanic community as a whole.”

Chafee described the ad as accurate during a Saturday debate with Laffey, but spokesman Ian Lang referred questions to the NRSC after Pichardo’s letter appeared Monday on a Democratic Web site.

“This is not our ad, we have nothing to do with it,” Lang said.

NRSC spokesman Dan Ronayne denied that the ad was anti-Hispanic.

“This ad is about our national security, and it speaks to concerns raised by the FBI,” he said.

FBI officials have said the cards present security risks because counterfeit copies can be purchased relatively easily and could be used by terrorists. Banks, the U.S. Treasury and some government agencies commonly accept them as proper identification.


Associated Press Writer M.L. Johnson in Providence, R.I., contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press