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By DENA POTTER
The Rev. Jerry Falwell acknowledged on Sunday saying that if Hillary Rodham Clinton were the Democrats’ presidential nominee in 2008, it would motivate conservative evangelical Christians to oppose her more than if the devil himself were running.
Falwell said in a telephone interview that his comments to several hundred pastors and religious activists at the "Value Voter Summit" conference were "totally tongue-in-cheek."
"I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate," Falwell said at a breakfast session Friday in Washington. "I hope she’s the candidate, because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton," he said. "If Lucifer ran, he wouldn’t."
Clinton press secretary Philippe Reines said Sunday, "Working for someone who believes in the Golden Rule, we’re not going to engage in such vitriolic discourse — but it seems that a new low has been reached in demonizing political opponents."
Falwell told the AP that he did not intend to demonize the former first lady. "That was totally tongue-in-cheek and everyone in the building knew that and everyone laughed," Falwell said.
Falwell said religious conservatives do not favor Clinton for several reasons, but mostly because she is pro-choice on abortion, "the cutting-edge issue for social conservatives."
"I just think that she has enough of a record before our people now to bring most of them to the polls," Falwell said.
The Rev. Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said, "I don’t know why Jerry Falwell always has to drag politics into the gutter."
Lynn, whose advocacy group scrutinizes the religious right and was monitoring last week’s conference, added, "Maybe the devil made him do it."
Attendees also were assured during the prayer breakfast that God would preserve a Republican majority in Congress.
Falwell would not say what he thought would happen in 2008 if Clinton were not the nominee.
"In ’08, I think that’s too far ahead to know what’s going to happen in the domestic and foreign policy issues," Falwell said in the interview.
"In my opinion, the big issue then will be what the big issue is today, and that is national security and the war on terrorism at home and abroad. I don’t think anybody doubts that the Republicans have a better record and a better commitment to national security than the Democrats do," Falwell said.
His remarks were first reported in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times.
Associated Press writer Jim Drinkard contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press