George W. Bush's Visit to Bob Jones University Continues to Stir up ControversyAired February 27, 2000 - 8:09 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: Turning to U.S. presidential politics now, George W. Bush has picked up some off-shore support in the race against Republican rival John McCain. Bush won the Puerto Rican primary Sunday, one day after winning primaries in Guam, American Samoa and the Virgin Islands. The Republican race is much more competitive on the U.S. mainland.
CNN's Beth Fouhy has a report.
BETH FOUHY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The rituals of Sunday worship and Sunday talk show clashed in the latest chapter of campaign 2000.
KARL ROVE, BUSH CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: We have not since 1960 seen religion injected in such an ugly way in an American campaign.
FOUHY: At issue, the continued controversy over George W. Bush's visit to fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina where interracial dating is banned, and whose leaders have expressed anti- Catholic views.
Reeling from criticism that Bush did not condemn the dating policy or the anti-Catholicism during his visit to Bob Jones, his campaign released this letter written by Bush to Cardinal John O'Connor of New York. In it, Bush says: "On reflection, I should have been more clear in disassociating myself from anti-Catholic sentiments and racial prejudice. It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret."
But observers say the visit may have done lasting damage to Bush's self-proclaimed compassionate conservatism.
WILLIAM BENNETT, EMPOWER AMERICA: He wants to broaden the base of the Republican Party. If you're broadening the base, you don't go to Bob Jones.
FOUHY: But the McCain campaign has been under fire as well for its response to Bush's trip to Bob Jones, offering conflicting accounts of how much McCain himself knew about this phone call placed by his campaign to Catholic voters in Michigan.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor George Bush has campaigned against Senator John McCain by seeking the support of Southern fundamentalists who have expressed anti-Catholic views.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FOUHY: Bush aides angrily denounced McCain for denying and then acknowledging his campaign's role in making the calls.
ROVE: Right now he's running a television ad saying, I'll always tell you the truth. I guess the real question is, when is he going to start telling us the truth?
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I authorized a factual statement that George -- that Governor Bush visited Bob Jones University, that practices both anti-Catholic and racial discrimination. That -- I stand by that statement.
FOUHY (on camera): McCain aides say they won't rule out making more calls to Catholic voters. And Bush aides say he'll continue to speak out on the controversy, which they call an unfair assault on his integrity.
Beth Fouhy, CNN, Washington.
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