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GOP Primaries in Va., Wash St.

February 29, 2000

At a Catholic family center in Ohio, George W. Bush said he regretted his delay in speaking against anti-Catholic bias but accused John McCain of spiteful campaigning on the issue. Bush said he felt ``things are coming my way″ as voters cast ballots in GOP primaries today in Virginia and Washington state and North Dakota’s caucuses.

McCain campaigned in Stockton, Calif., where he said Bush’s speech at a South Carolina school associated with anti-Catholic and racial bias ``is a fair issue for me to raise.″ He also defended his decision to miss this week’s debate in California and offered to participate in it by satellite feed while sticking to his campaign schedule.

``We don’t flex our schedule to Bush’s schedule,″ McCain said earlier today. He called California ``obviously a critical state″ and made plans to campaign there six of the seven days leading up to March 7, when California and more than a dozen other states vote.

Asked about the balloting in Virginia and Washington, McCain said, ``I’m not sure I’ll win either state but I think we’ll do pretty well.″ Bush predicted victory.

In Virginia, Alexandria retiree William Lynch said as a Catholic he was offended by McCain’s phone calls. ``McCain has started to show a mean streak,″ he said.

Web designer Shelley Howes, an independent, said she voted for McCain because of his strong opinions and willingness to defy his party. ``We’ve had several years of wishy-washiness,″ Howes said.

Bush met with Catholic Charities workers today in the half-finished Fatima Family Center, which will offer social services in Cleveland’s impoverished Hough neighborhood.

``My regret is that I didn’t speak out against anti-Catholic bias when I had the opportunity to do so. I had the mike,″ Bush said of his speech at Bob Jones University. He expressed similar regrets last week in a letter to Cardinal John O’Connor of New York.

Bush raised the name of the nation’s only Catholic president as he called on McCain to stop targeting Catholic voters with telephone messages about the speech.

``It’s the kind of politics that John F. Kennedy rejected in the 1960s,″ Bush said. ``It’s the kind of politics we thought we put behind us in America.″

He rejected McCain’s claim of being ``Reaganesque,″ saying, ``Ronald Reagan didn’t have a spiteful agenda, he had an optimistic agenda, as do I.″

Bush said despite such divisive tactics he had the support of most Republican voters, ``which means its going to be easy to unite our party and lead us to victory.″

McCain’s success so far has relied on the help of independents and Democrats voting in open primaries, while Bush has generally led among Republican voters.

On Monday, Bush visited Washington, where he tried to play up his education initiatives, including urging Internet millionaires to put their money to a higher use.

``I’m going to call upon them to use their brainpower and innovation to help reinvent education,″ the Texas governor said during a meeting with educators at Bellevue Community College.

A continent away, McCain stole the spotlight by lambasting leaders of the religious right and criticizing Bush for affiliating with them.

``Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell on the right,″ McCain said during a speech in Virginia Beach, headquarters for Robertson’s Christian Coalition.

Conservative activist Gary Bauer, who endorsed McCain after dropping his own presidential bid, said today the senator’s remarks reflected a ``very personal″ dispute between McCain and the two Christian leaders. He said McCain went too far by comparing them to ``fringe″ leaders on the left, but urged conservative voters to support McCain as the candidate more strongly opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage.

``Politics is an uncomfortable business,″ Bauer said on NBC’s ``Today.″

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is Catholic, came to his brother’s defense today, telling NBC that ``Religion, like race, is a wedge issue that appeals to people’s emotions. ... Shame on Senator McCain.″

There are 56 delegates at stake in Virginia, 19 in North Dakota and 12 of the 37 available in Washington. A total of 1,034 delegates are needed for the nomination.

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