McCain: I'm Baptist, Not Episcopalian

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain, who has long been identified as an Episcopalian, said this weekend that he is a Baptist and has been for years.

"It's well known because I'm an active member of the church," the Arizona senator told reporters Sunday, referring to North Phoenix Baptist Church in Arizona, where he and his family have been members for more than 15 years.

At a campaign stop at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Anderson, S.C., McCain said he has made plenty of public expressions of his faith.

"I've done that hundreds of times," McCain said, according to The Associated Press, adding he has spoken at length with his pastor at the Arizona church.

In media reports, however, McCain has consistently referred to himself as Episcopalian and told McClatchy Newspapers in June that while his wife and two of their children have been baptized in the Baptist church, he had not.

"I didn't find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs," he said.

Despite this, McCain is still considered a full member of the church as baptism is not necessary to be one, as the senator said he was told.

"I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist," the senator told AP on Saturday when asked how his Episcopal faith plays a role in his campaign and life.

While some may view McCain's confession as a political move, as it was made in the conservative and predominantly Baptist state of South Carolina, the senator noted that his Baptist church membership didn't "save me" in 2000, when he lost to George W. Bush in the hotly contested South Carolina primary.

Currently, McCain trails in the presidential polls behind Republican contenders Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, and Fred Thompson, the actor and former senator from Tennessee. As the latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll noted, however, white men, conservatives, evangelicals and other pivotal blocs are divided among the Republican Party's leading presidential contenders, leaving the race for the 2008 GOP nomination highly fluid.

"Overall, the survey underscores that no contender has yet to convincingly make the case that he is the candidate for change that so many voters want as the party searches for its identity and a successor to Bush," AP reported.

Evangelicals have especially been divided. Front-runner Giuliani is seen as too liberal with his support for abortion and gay rights. Potential favorite Thompson, under closer scrutiny, has been seen by some Christian leaders as not firm enough in defending core issues of the Christian right. Meanwhile, Sen. McCain has made a couple strong criticisms against evangelical leaders, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has also been criticized for flip-flopping on the abortion issue and for his ties to the Mormon church – which many evangelicals consider a cult.

"This is a dilemma a lot of people have," said Tim Wildmon, president of American Family Association. "They want to support the candidate that most reflects their values. But at the same time, you have to balance that against finding someone who can actually win."

According to the latest AP-Ipsos poll, the contest remains a virtual tie between Giuliani at 24 percent and Thompson at 19 percent. Not far behind at 15 percent is McCain while Romney has 7 percent.