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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Politics, Prayer & Passion; Pope Benedict XVI Admits Church Mishandled Sex Abuse Scandal

Aired April 16, 2008 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


CAMPBELL BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, "Politics, Prayer & Passion," a special edition of ELECTION CENTER, all three shimmering in the spotlight of Washington today, which is playing host to Pope Benedict XVI.
It is also a historic day for the church, because, just about an hour ago, the pope addressed the priest sex abuse scandal and admitted the church had mishandled it.

It happened just a short time ago when the pope was in front of the U.S. bishops. And we will be talking about that, much more in this hour.

But, first, the extraordinary show in Washington today when the pope came to town. This is Pope Benedict's first official trip to the U.S. and it's the only -- or only -- rather, the second time in history a pope has welcomed -- or the president, rather, has welcomed a pope to the White House. In a word, it was a spectacle today.

Almost 14,000 people crowded on to the White House South Lawn to watch. The ceremony included bands, speeches, smiles, a 21-gun salute, and a round of "Happy Birthday."

Check this out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KATHLEEN BATTLE, SINGER (singing): Happy birthday to you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Yes, it's his birthday. Today is Pope Benedict's 81st birthday.

And President Bush had a huge cake waiting for him. This afternoon, thousands of onlookers lined streets, waving and cheering, as the popemobile drove by.

And look at this. Despite all the security and against the advice of the Secret Service, the pope rolled down the bulletproof windows of his popemobile to greet the people on the way to the evening prayer service at Washington's Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. That prayer service ended just about 10 minutes ago.

And the bishops themselves serenaded the pope with another round of happy birthday. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALES (singing): Holy Father. Happy birthday to you.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Tonight, at the White House, a dinner to honor the pope.

And that's where we find our White House correspondent Ed Henry.

And, Ed, this is a big deal, a state dinner for the pope. But he's not actually there tonight. Why not?

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it does seem odd, because the White House has been calling this a state visit. And no one can recall a time where there's state visit and a state dinner without the actual head of the state, in this case, the pope.

So, tonight, the White House actually changed the official designation from a state visit to just a visit, without the word state. They didn't want to have it look like one side or the other was snubbing the other side.

But it actually turns out that it's Vatican protocol for the pope not to be seen eating in public. So, papal aides say that the told the White House weeks ago that the pope would not be here. Don't take it as a snub. So, the White House moved forward anywhere, had this dinner in his honor.

So, the bottom line, the pope is not here. But there are hundreds of other people, like Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who's Catholics, no less than five members of the Supreme Court.

And an interesting note is that, when the pope does turn out for dinner around the world, he doesn't usually have wine. Instead, he favors Fanta orange soda. I guest that shows that he's a man of simple tastes.

(LAUGHTER)

HENRY: But those red shoes he sports sometimes are a little bit interesting, I guess, Campbell.

BROWN: Good little tidbits there, Ed. And I guess it is really all about the optics, isn't it?

You know, earlier today, President Bush and the pope did meet privately. And they released a very positive statement. But they do have serious disagreements, on Iraq, for instance. Will we ever know what was really discussed in that meeting?

HENRY: It's very fascinating. You're right. They put out a readout, a joint statement between the White House and the Vatican that only highlights eight or nine things that are very positive. They agree essentially on what they call the sanctity of life. They agree on immigration and being humane to immigrants, particularly from Latin America, but no real long mention of Iraq, instead, just a mention that they agree on the idea of making sure that the remaining Christians in Iraq aren't persecuted.

Obviously, since there was only two people in that room, the pope and the president and no staffers, it's unlikely we're ever going to really find out what was really aired in the Oval Office -- Campbell.

BROWN: All right, Ed Henry for us from the White House tonight -- Ed, thanks.

HENRY: Thank you.

BROWN: And now let's go a little bit beyond the pomp and circumstance.

Here's our insider guide to Pope Benedict's first full day of his historic trip.

For that, CNN Vatican analyst John Allen and Vatican journalist Delia Gallagher. They are both traveling with the pope, joining us now.

Hi, guys.

BROWN: John...

JOHN ALLEN, CNN VATICAN ANALYST: Hello, Campbell.

BROWN: Good evening to you.

Let me start with you. For a lot of people, it's not impossible not to compare Pope Benedict to the previous pope, who was adored in the U.S., but also around the world. Is this an opportunity for Pope Benedict to try to that same kind of connection with American Catholics?

ALLEN: Well, Campbell, I think the genius of Benedict XVI is that he's not trying to replicate John Paul II.

I think he understands that John Paul was one of these uniquely charismatic figures that only comes along once in only so often in the course of history. And he's not trying to fill those shoes. I think he's trying to be true to himself. And who he is a man who is a bit more cerebral and a bit more reserved.

And so it doesn't establish the same kind of I think intense, immediate emotional rapport with people. But, obviously, if you looked at the faces of those people who are on the White House lawn, or who were lining streets of Washington today for that fleeting glimpse of the pope as he passed in the popemobile, there was no shortage of enthusiasm.

So, while it may not be the same kind of rapture, I think the very positive and deeply spiritual sort of personality of this man, you know, is winning people over.

BROWN: Delia, watching the events today, it all seemed very choreographed. Walk us through what went into planning this visit. And I have to ask you because it came up in our meeting today. How did they actually get the popemobile here?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are several popemobiles here. And they fly them over if necessary. There's about three of them, actually. And, so, they take them around wherever they travel.

And, today, I have to say, was spectacular, nothing short of spectacular. And, I mean, that's a tribute to this warm American welcome that most Americans probably wouldn't be surprised about. But I will tell you, my Italian colleagues said they felt like they were in a movie, being there on the White House lawn and seeing this small, timid pope in the midst of this great American enthusiasm.

And, you know, whether you agree with the pope or not -- and there are plenty of people who don't -- I think it is a tribute to the American people that they are able to show this kind of welcome to Pope Benedict. And it's one of the things that he says that he admires about our country, that we're able to have a secular society and yet still invite religious figures and talk about religion in public.

BROWN: John, we just saw in those pictures a second ago that the window was down in the popemobile today. That was against the advice of his security. But popes have a different view of these things, don't they?

ALLEN: Well, they sure do.

I recall when we were in Toronto in 2002 with John Paul for World Youth Day, he made a similar swing through that crowd of more than one million people in the popemobile. And when he got to the place behind the altar where he supposed to get out, there was this 15-minute gap in his schedule.

And we actually perhaps something had happened with his health. It turned out the reason for the gap is that he was soaking wet, because he had insisted on leaving the windows on the popemobile down, despite the driving rain that morning, his worry being that, because of the rain, the windows were going to fog up and people wouldn't be able to see him.

And once again, his handlers and his security people said, Holy Father, don't do this.

But it turns out, particularly in the popemobile, nobody's going to tell a pope that he can't roll down his own windows.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Fair point. John, very quickly on this, because we're going to talk about this coming up, apart from the pageantry today, the pope also made big news involving the sex abuse scandal. Tell us why this is so significant.

ALLEN: Well, in his speech to the American bishops this evening, the pope used very blunt language, describing the sexual abuse crisis as evil and as a sin, and indicated that -- quite forthrightly, that sometimes it's been very badly handled by the Catholic Church.

And it's quite rare for a pope to acknowledge failure in that open a fashion, particularly for something in the here and now, as opposed to a failure of several hundred years ago, such as the Crusades or the Inquisition.

BROWN: Right.

All right, John and Delia, stay there, because we're turn now for a much closer look at the pope and the priest sex crisis. We have ask Ted Rowlands to watch the papal visit in one of the cities where the scandal hit hardest and answer this question for us: Will the pope's words really settle anything?

And then later on, politics and prayer. Ordained Baptist Minister and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee with some advice for John McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If he believes he has got to have the traditional base of the party, the evangelicals, the Catholics, the sort of foot soldiers out there knocking doors, then, yes, I think he does have to make sure that whoever his pick is, is going to be somebody that the conservative base of the party can rally around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The scandal of priests abusing children, a horror that won't seem to end. And you just saw the numbers. Hundreds of reports still come in each year.

Tonight, addressing the U.S. bishops at Washington's Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Pope Benedict expressed his deep shame over what happened and admitted it was very badly handled. But listen carefully. You won't hear what so many want, an apology. And this is something we want you to hear from his own lips. And we will also put his words on the screen, since his accent is pretty thick.

Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE BENEDICT XVI: Among the countersigns to the Gospel of life found in America and elsewhere is one that causes deep shame: the sexual abuse of minors.

Responding to this situation has not been easy. And, as the president of your Episcopal Conference has indicated, it was sometimes very badly handled.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: But will the pope's words be enough?

In Los Angeles, Ted Rowlands found some victims who say, no way.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOELLE CASTEIX, CHURCH ABUSE VICTIM: And he gets a red carpet.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From her home in Southern California, church sex abuse victim Joelle Casteix is watching Pope Benedict's visit very closely. She thinks, for victims like herself, the pope's words, including an admission that the church mishandled the abuse crisis, is too little, too late.

CASTEIX: He's basically just feeding everybody a line. All they get is this lip service that is the same thing that they have been told by bishops for the past 15, 20 years. It's very re-victimizing for a lot of people. They just -- they simply ring hollow.

ROWLANDS: Father Steve Niskanen, who said this morning's mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels in Los Angeles is also watching. He naturally sees the pope's visit through a very different lens.

He believes the pontiff's comments will go a long way towards reassuring people that the church is safe.

FATHER STEVE NISKANEN, OUR LADY QUEEN OF ANGELS: And also calls our church to redouble our efforts to protect all children and all young people.

ROWLANDS: Father Niskanen's Los Angeles Diocese is especially sensitive to sex abuse scandal. With more than 500 victims here, this was one of the epicenters of priest abuse. Today, in Washington, the victims advocacy group SNAP singled out Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles for the way he handled the abuse crisis, which critics say was too defensive and secretive.

CASTEIX: What he did, instead of cleaning it out, he made sure that men who hurt kids were kept quiet and quietly moved around.

ROWLANDS: L.A. Diocese spokesman Tod Tamberg defends Cardinal Mahony, who is with the pope during his visit.

TOD TAMBERG, LOS ANGELES ARCHDIOCESE: One of the best cardinals in terms of making information available, in terms of learning from the mistakes that he did make to create a stronger church, a safer church.

ROWLANDS: The Catholic sex abuse scandal has caused severe pain and damage, both in tarnished reputation and hugely expensive payouts. The church has already paid out more than $2 billion in church sex abuse settlements.

American Catholics are hoping the Holy Father will help put the nightmare behind them and help assure people it won't happen again.

POPE BENEDICT XVI: God bless America.

ROWLANDS: Ted Rowlands, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Beyond the pope's speech, what the church can really do to end the cover-ups, the shame and misery, and hold the bishops accountable. Our Vatican insiders are standing by. We will get some answers from them coming up in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We're back now with CNN Vatican experts John Allen and Delia Gallagher.

And, John, admitting the church is wrong is one thing, but some of the victims are asking why aren't the bishops who in some cases knew what was going on, why isn't more being done to hold them accountable?

ALLEN: Well, Campbell, I think in part what's going on here is sort of two different understandings of accountability.

I think, in the kind of corporate culture of the United States, accountability means that, when there's a failure, someone loses their job. And until heads rolls, people have a sense that accountability hasn't been maintained.

BROWN: Right.

ALLEN: I think, from the Catholic understanding, or the Vatican's understanding, anyway, there's a whole different model of what accountability means.

From their point of view, in traditional Catholic theology, a bishop is understood to be married to his diocese. He's also talked about as the father of his people. In other words, it's a family, not a corporation. In that logic, even when a father spectacularly fails his family, what you do is not walk away. What you is you go back and make things right.

And so I think Benedict's hope here is that, by having spoken so candidly, so bluntly and so forcefully about this crisis, among other things, it will have the effect of sort of compelling bishops or adding to the pressure on bishops to deal with this crisis and ensure that it never happens again.

BROWN: Delia, do you think there will be any real change as a result of what the pope said today? Will there be more openness about it now?

GALLAGHER: Well, certainly, I think he started with the openness. Even before he got here on the airplane, that was his top priority, to be open about this topic.

And I don't think that he necessarily expects any kind of short- term reaction even from some of the victims.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Right. Delia, why not take it further? Why not meet with some of the victims?

GALLAGHER: Well, I think that's a possibility. And I think that it's something that surely some people would like to see. And I think that he's taken at least the first step to say very publicly to make this a top priority, but without the expectation that there's necessarily going to be on the side of the victims an immediate, "Well, thank you very much; it's OK."

It's understandable. And I'm sure the pope would agree that it's for them to decide when and how they can offer and they can respond to what he says about being ashamed about this and having it handled badly. Certainly, there's no requirement on the other side to meet him halfway, as it were.

BROWN: All right, Delia Gallagher, and John as well, John Allen, thanks to both of you.

I want to bring in attorney Lisa Bloom now, who is the anchor of "In Session" on truTV. She represented several plaintiffs in priest sex abuse cases in the early '90s.

And, Lisa, let me ask you, from the victims' point of view, is his statement, does it mean anything, or is it too little too late?

LISA BLOOM, TRUTV ANCHOR: Well, I think it's heartfelt, very strongly worded statement from the head of the Catholic Church. And that has to mean something.

But from the point of view of victims, the has been going on for decades. And there was no mention of the institutional cover-up that has been going on for decades, the concealment of evidence, the fact that, when I represented kids who were abused, they couldn't get any information from the church about the priests. They were always told it was their fault, and they were attacking the church, they were attacking God, in essence. That wasn't so long ago. That still goes on.

BROWN: And a lot of these cases, where are they now? Because I know statute of limitations ran out on a lot of them because it took a while for many of the victims to have the courage to come forward and talk about it.

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM: That's right. The statute of limitations did run.

And many people killed themselves. And many people had these horrible outcomes. This is severe pain for many, many victims. There have been tens of thousands of victims who have brought civil claims. The church has paid out over $1 billion by now.

But the real question is not addressed. The question that victims bring up over and over again, apart from the horrors of their abuse, which the pope did address today, what about the church's cover-up? What about the concealment of evidence, the fact that the church would get complaints against a certain priest, many complaints sometimes, and simply move the priest around to a different parish, where he could then go on to molest other children? That was the real problem.

BROWN: You got involved in this way before it even made headlines. What was your reaction, personally, when you heard his comments today? Was it meaningful?

BLOOM: It was meaningful. But it is 2008. And I think of the lives that were destroyed over many decades. And many brave people came forward way before I was involved in it.

BROWN: Did you even think that you would hear this coming from the pope?

(CROSSTALK)

BLOOM: No. I never thought I would hear this. And that why it is heartening. And I think we have to give credit where credit is due. These were very strong words from the head of the church.

But decades have gone by. Why has it taken so long? And what really is going on at the top? Words are great. Action would be even better, action against the bishops and the cardinals that allowed this to fester for so long. We haven't seen the action yet.

BROWN: All right, Lisa Bloom, as always, thanks.

BLOOM: Thanks.

BROWN: John McCain may be a lock for the GOP nomination, but even with the primary behind him, he's still having a hard time closing the trust gap with many evangelicals. So, what advice would a former rival and darling of Christian conservatives give McCain on how to close that gap?

I'm going to ask Mike Huckabee -- straight ahead in the ELECTION CENTER.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In a world where some treat life as something to be debased and discarded, we need your message that all human life is sacred and that each of us is willed...

(APPLAUSE)

... each of us is loved.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Today, in his greeting to Pope Benedict, President Bush made a point, as he often has in the past, of speaking about the sanctity of life.

That comfort in speaking out about faith has never come easily for fellow Republican John McCain. In fact, faith is rarely at the top of McCain's agenda. And that has been a continuing challenge for him, as he tries to win over skeptical evangelicals.

Here's Dana Bash.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Song and prayer at New Covenant Fellowship Church in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's pray.

BASH: These are evangelical voters Republican presidential candidates rely on to win this swing state and others like it, evangelical voters who say they don't know much about the role faith plays in the life of John McCain.

DOUG ENDERS, EVANGELICAL PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Honestly, I haven't got a good feel for him. I haven't -- I have been to his Web site a few times, but I haven't got a food feel as to where he stands when it comes to other issues that aren't the ones that are maybe mainstreams issues that Christians tend to look at.

BASH: It's one of the biggest ironies this year. The Democrats can't seem to stop talking about proverbs and piety. The presumptive Republican nominee almost never does.

McCain, raised an Episcopalian, now belongs to a Baptist church, but has not been baptized yet. On the rare occasions he does bring up religious, it's usually in his comfort zone, the military and its men.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Their duty and loyalty belong to their country. They find solace in their faith in God.

BASH: Quite a contrast to the current GOP president who famously said this when asked to name his favorite philosopher.

BUSH: Christ, because he changed my heart.

BASH: McCain says he's from a different generation, one more private about prayer.

MCCAIN: I'm unashamed and unembarrassed about my deep faith in God. But I do not obviously try to impose my views on others.

BASH: But McCain isn't only quiet about his faith. He also rarely promotes the issues dear to evangelicals, like his opposition to abortion. And he's angered social conservatives by supporting policies they detest, like embryonic stem cell research, and offended powerful leaders like James Dobson of Focus on the Family by refusing to reach out.

(on-camera): Why not pick up the phone and call him and try to...

(CROSSTALK)

MCCAIN: Well, if Dr. Dobson wanted to speak to him, I would be more than -- I would be glad to speak to him.

BASH (voice-over): Back at the evangelical church, Pastor Brett Hartman disagrees with McCain on several issues, but says he's not bothered that McCain doesn't talk much about his faith.

PASTOR BRETT HARTMAN, NEW COVENANT FELLOWSHIP CHURCH: Sometimes when people kind of use the platform of their faith, that it takes away a little bit from their integrity.

BASH: Whether his uncertain conservative flock agrees with that gospel could determine McCain's political fate.

Dana Bash, CNN, Ransom, Pennsylvania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: So, how might the McCain camp convince Christian conservatives he shares their concerns and their values?

I spoke with someone who should know, Southern Baptist Minister and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Governor Huckabee, welcome to you.

HUCKABEE: Thank you very much, Campbell.

BROWN: As a pastor, you're somebody who has been very comfortable talking about your faith. But, as Dana Bash just reported, that's not the way it is for John McCain, necessarily. Last weekend, I hosted a forum on candidates and their faith. And we had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both there, but not John McCain. Do you think that was a missed opportunity for him?

HUCKABEE: Not necessarily. I don't think John McCain has run from a discussion. He has talked about his faith, how it impacted him during his time as a prisoner of war. I have heard him talk about his relationship to his church in Arizona, how it's molded his life. So, he's not a person that has been afraid of it at all.

Sometimes, people are more comfortable talking about it and maybe bring it up. But I think no one who's ever been around John McCain, or ever heard him speak for any significant period of time, believe in any way that he's uncomfortable or somehow finds that faith is a discussion that is awkward for him.

BROWN: James Dobson of Focus on the Family, he's one of the most influential evangelical leaders in the country, and he endorsed you. But he is not getting behind McCain, at least not yet. Dr. Dobson says McCain has made little effort to reach out to social conservatives, so far at least. How much of a problem do you think this is, and what do you think McCain should be doing about it?

HUCKABEE: Well, I think he is reaching out, and I expect that Senator McCain is going to do a lot of things between now and November, to bring the party together, to get all of us on the same page. Because ultimately, we know that Senator McCain is going to be a lot closer to the views of believers, evangelicals, Roman Catholics -- people who believe very strongly in the sanctity of life and traditional marriage than will perhaps either of the Democrats. And I think that's why there will be upon us (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: But why are people like Dobson saying that they're not feeling that from him?

HUCKABEE: I don't know. You have to ask him. You know, you don't have to agree with Dr. Dobson on everything. I'm going to support Senator McCain very strongly because I do believe that he's pro life. I believe he does represent the views, the values that are important to me and to millions of other Americans. And I believe he's comfortable in his own skin about what he believes in and how to express it.

BROWN: You know, a while back, you offered to help the McCain campaign, to do anything that you need to do. And you said now, that you're waiting to hear back from them. And right now, this strikes me, because he is struggling with the very people who supported you. So why on earth haven't they put you to work?

HUCKABEE: Well, in fact, over the last few days, we've had some calls and conversations. We'll be campaigning together next week. In Little Rock, he'll be coming. Our campaign is beginning to coordinate some scheduling so that I can do just that, which I want to do.

BROWN: All right. Governor Huckabee, Barack Obama got attention for his comment about bitter small-town voters who cling to guns and religion. I want to get your reaction to that when we come back after the short break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: And we're back now with Governor Mike Huckabee. And Governor Huckabee, did Barack Obama blow it with religious voters when he said small-town voters cling to guns or religion as a result of their economic frustrations? The McCain campaign already says they're planning to use those comments against him if he is the nominee.

HUCKABEE: I think there's no doubt that those were comments that he wished he never said. They did come across in a harsh way. I think a lot of people across this country, particularly in the middle of America, will find that offensive. And I think what made it more difficult was that he said it in what he believed to be a closed session.

If he said that from a podium where he knew that he was going to be recorded, I believe that he could have more easily said, hey, look, I didn't mean it that way. But the fact that he said it in San Francisco, and it was behind closed doors at a fund-raiser, and somebody taped it, I think it sort of says this was his unguarded moment, and those are the things that hurt the most.

BROWN: You know, a lot of people out there were pretty surprised when you spoke out in defense of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the controversial pastor of Barack Obama. And you spoke out in defense of how Obama handled that controversial situation. Why did you do that?

HUCKABEE: Well, because I felt like it's a very short line for people who try to look at this from the perspective of Reverend Wright. I was very clear. I didn't agree with what he said. I thought what he said was inflammatory. I thought it was wrong. I thought it was even harsh.

But I also said that what he said had to be viewed in light of a person who had been through years and years of discrimination, and being on the receiving end of racism. The likes of which most of us particularly who are white cannot possibly understand. So, do I agree with him? No. Was he wrong? Yes.

But should we also have some respect and even really some empathy for him, or sympathy for him for what he may have experienced all those years in which he was the target of racism. Yes, I think we owe him that.

BROWN: You know, governor, you got a lot going on right now. You're starting this new political action committee to support socially conservative candidates like yourself. And I hear you got a Hollywood agent, the same agency that represents Brad Pitt. What exactly are you up to?

HUCKABEE: Well, you know, Brad's getting a little old, graying around the temple so I think somebody's got to be, you know, the new guy. No, I mean, they're helping me coordinate, you know, all of the things that I want to do which is to use both the Internet, the printed word through books, the spoken word, to continue what I saw happen in the campaign. And that's developed and enlarged a community across this country of people who really do want to see America return to its sense of greatness.

And that's not about so much left or right liberal conservative. It's more about that we're going to go up, not down. What I call vertical politics. And I think we have an opportunity to have an impact on elections in the Senate and the House. And certainly, I want to campaign for Senator McCain. I plan to do all of those things this year.

BROWN: What about the vice presidential slot with McCain? Is that a job you want? Do you think you're in the running?

HUCKABEE: Well, I'm going to support whoever Senator McCain picks. And I think it's really, really inappropriate for me to start saying, hey, I'm here, I'm here. Because that's a decision that he has to make not based on what everybody's telling him, but he's got to look at his game plan. What is his strategy to win the presidency?

And I'll be very candid with you. I'd much rather him pick somebody that helps him win the presidency, than just to say I hope he picks me.

BROWN: Well, does --

HUCKABEE: I want him to win.

BROWN: Does he need then to pick a socially conservative running mate that the base of the party can relate to?

HUCKABEE: Well, it depends on what he believes he has to do to win. If his strategy is to go after maybe voters who are more either in the center or a little bit to the left, then maybe not. If he believes he's got to have the traditional base of the party, the evangelicals, the Catholics, the sort of foot soldiers out there knocking doors, then, yes, I think he does have to make sure that whoever his pick is, is going to be somebody that the conservative base of the party can rally around and give their heart to. But again, it all comes down to what the strategy is, and that will determine what the tactics will be.

BROWN: Governor Mike Huckabee for us tonight. Governor, always good to talk to you. Thanks so much.

HUCKABEE: Thank you, Campbell.

BROWN: In a moment, the "War Room." And tonight, more on this issue. What John McCain needs to do to win the support of evangelical voters in November. As always, we have two seasoned political strategists to lay it out for us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Now, the "War Room." It's our nightly look at campaign strategies and their never-ending quest to crush their opponents. Faith and values used to sound like a part of the Republican Party's motto. But now, the Democratic candidates are making every effort to talk about religion. And John McCain is noticeably absent from that conversation.

With us in the "War Room" tonight, from Washington, D.C., is Republican strategist Terry Holt, who was national spokesman for the Bush/Cheney campaign in 2004, and Democratic Strategist Joe Trippi, who was a senior adviser to John Edwards' presidential campaign this year. Joe, we should mention, has not endorsed another candidate or contributed to any campaign. Welcome, guys.

JOE TRIPPI, FMR. SR. ADVISER TO JOHN EDWARDS: Thank you.

TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Thank you.

BROWN: Joe, I'm going to start with you. We just heard from Mike Huckabee, and he's about to hit the stump now for McCain. This is a guy who has a huge following with evangelicals. If you were running John McCain's campaign, hopefully you would have had Huckabee out before now. But anyway, how would you use him?

TRIPPI: Well, I mean, I'd get him out there to try to shore up the problems he's having with the social conservatives and frankly, I mean, you know, you talked to him about this. But if I were McCain and he's serious about trying to connect to social conservatives, Mike Huckabee would be somebody you would pick for a vice president.

I don't see him moving that way, though, which is interesting. He has this problem with the conservative base of his party that to have it as this stage of the game, where they really just don't seem to trust him, is not a very good place to be at this point. You usually want to try to have your base solidified right now.

BROWN: Right.

TRIPPI: And I certainly would have had Huckabee out there doing it.

BROWN: Terry, James Dobson, the head of Focus on the Family, one of the most influential evangelical leaders out there, and it seems like he cannot stop badmouthing McCain. Every time he does, it's a headline about how McCain can't keep the GOP House in order. What should McCain be doing about this?

HOLT: Well, that's a problem. Dr. Dobson is an influential leader among the elite of the social conservative groups. But there's also another track and that's the track that Mike Huckabee had great success with, the main street track.

You know, I tend to think that often in political analysis we simplify the evangelical Christian movement. We tend to think of them as a list of punch-list voters. People who vote based on abortion or based on traditional marriage issues. But they bring values to their whole public life. They look at candidates through the prism of how they're going to promote their values across a broader spectrum of issues.

And I think that John McCain can appeal to social conservatives on patriotic issues, on values, on being a genuine candidate that's going to not just wear his religion on his sleeve, but really infuse his presidency with a sense of right and wrong. I think that's what people are looking for in their candidates. BROWN: Joe, though, history shows that Republicans also win elections by talking more openly about faith and about religion. And John McCain has been very reluctant to do that. Would you advise him to be more open about it, maybe even give a speech on religion?

TRIPPI: Well, I mean, so far the McCain campaign and John McCain has sort of played this game of come here, come here, come here. Get away, get away, get away. I mean, where they're literally almost trying to run away from the Republican Party and social conservatives, but at the same time trying to fix it somehow. And so, I think, you know, part of it, he's got to decide which way this is going to be. Is he going to try to -- try to put his base back together? Or is he going to be flee from the party like he did yesterday in his economic speech, where he basically said Republicans in Washington were big spenders just like Democrats and kind of renounced the Congressional Republicans. So he's seems to be sort of, you know, discombobulated in the way they're trying to put this campaign together right now.

BROWN: I mean, Terry, let me be a little counterintuitive, and just think about this way, or maybe some are thinking about it this way in his campaign. Is there any intelligence to sort of just letting McCain be McCain? Assume he can't win over religious conservatives, so stop trying and instead focus on sort of expanding his appeal to independents and Democrats.

HOLT: Well, there's no doubt that John McCain has his own brand. He's fundamentally different from President Bush in so many ways, and I would disagree with Joe a little bit. Yesterday -- yesterday's speech was very much a conservative economic speech with low taxes and fiscal restraint.

John McCain has to be patient with this group of people. We need to have two tracks to pursue social conservative votes. We need to talk to the leaders.

TRIPPI: But Terry --

HOLT: And we also need to get down on main street and connect with people at the kitchen table.

BROWN: Right.

HOLT: And apply values to all of the issues that they care about in this election season.

BROWN: OK.

HOLT: He can do that.

BROWN: All right. Quick response, Joe.

TRIPPI: Well, Terry, what he's been doing is he's been running saying George Bush is too conservative and the congressional Republicans are too liberal, and I don't think that's going to work for him. He's got to figure out which way he's going.

BROWN: OK.

HOLT: Well, it does come down to appealing to the American people in his own way. He has to be genuine in order to win this election.

BROWN: All right. Got to end it there. Joe and Terry, thanks so much, guys. Appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

HOLT: Thank you.

TRIPPI: Thank you.

BROWN: One of every five U.S. voters is Catholic. Ahead, what the presidential candidates need to say to get their votes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: "LARRY KING LIVE" is just a few minutes away, and he is with us now. Larry, who will be joining you tonight?

LARRY KING, HOST, "LARRY KING LIVE": Campbell, we have a very interesting show. It's the eve of that big courtroom showdown and they're fighting the state of Texas for custody of their children. Mothers from the polygamist compound will tell their side of the story. And one of them, by the way, gave us an exclusive tour inside her raided home. We got a preview. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FLDS MEMBER: They come out and play on the grass. This shelf right here is for our shoes. It's genuinely full of children's shoes. They're gone because they have our children. They need to come home to their mothers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Plus, sect leader Winston Blackmore, all at the top of the hour on "LARRY KING LIVE," Campbell.

BROWN: Wow, Larry, we'll not miss that. Thank you.

And there is something you want to check out later tonight. "AC 360" is profiling all three presidential candidates this week. Tonight, how a one-time party boy found himself on the road to the White House. You know who it is? Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): During his junior year, McCain flunked an exam and had just one chance left to stay at Annapolis. But instead of studying, he went to another party.

FRANK GAMBOA, ROOMMATE AT ANNAPOLIS: We got back to the naval academy about 6:00 in the morning. He hadn't slept, of course. So he showered and shaved and got into his uniform, went over to the academic board. When it was his turn to go before the board, the commander came out to get him, he was sound asleep.

HILL: Somehow, McCain convinced them he should stay. Then, nearly a decade later, he was shot down, taken prisoner in Vietnam. The ordeal gave the young man a purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Erica Hill with "The John McCain You Don't Know" on "AC 360" at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

And here on ELECTION CENTER, we are talking about politics, prayer and passion. So we're going to look at how all the presidential hopefuls are appealing to Catholic voters and who is doing the best job at it. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: We are talking about politics, prayer and passion. The three presidential hopefuls are clamoring now to win over evangelical and Catholic voters. But are any of them having any success?

Joining me here in New York is Dan Gilgoff, politics editor for Beliefnet.com and the author of The Jesus Machine." From Chicago, CNN contributor Roland Martin, author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith." And from Washington, D.C., former Bush White House speechwriter, Mike Gerson, and he wrote the book, "Heroic Conservatism." Welcome to everybody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glad to be here.

BROWN: Dan, let me start with you. A large chunk of American Catholics are the so-called Reagan Democrats. These are ethnic white working-class voters for the most part. John McCain, crucial for him to make a connection with these people. Is he in any way?

DAN GILGOFF, BELIEFNET.COM, POLITICS EDITOR: Well, I think if you look on paper, this should be really his base. I mean, Catholic voters are the classic swing voters in this country. They've voted for every winning presidential candidate back to '72. He is with them on conservative issues like abortion, opposition to abortion, with the Catholic church on more liberal positions, like support for comprehensive immigration reform.

BROWN: Right.

GILGOFF: But I think if you look at how he's doing with Catholics, he actually faces some difficulties. Now, one of the reasons is this endorsement a couple of months back from John Hagee.

BROWN: John Hagee.

GILGOFF: This Texas-based televangelist who has a history of anti-Catholic statements. BROWN: Very controversial guy.

GILGOFF: And I think the second but related issue is that John McCain doesn't have a robust religious outreach program, doesn't have a robust Catholic outreach program. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have full-time Catholic outreach directors, McCain doesn't. So I think he's vulnerable to Democrats and Catholics too.

BROWN: Roland, as you know -- I mean, this is the point that's being made here. Democrats are bending over backwards this year to talk about faith. Let's be honest, though, evangelical conservatives that won George W. Bush the White House, these are die hard Republicans. So John McCain might not be one of them, but are they really going to jump ship and vote for a Democrat?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the issue is not them jumping ship. The issue is whether or not they're going to actually come out and vote. Are they enthusiastic about John McCain?

Now, I'll give you one example of -- that we heard in Dana Bash's piece that's very critical. John McCain has been attending a Baptist church in Phoenix for the last 15 years, but John McCain has chosen not to get baptized yet. For evangelicals, that's a critical issue. Even Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.

And so, all of those folks (ph) might say, I don't really see how that's important. It is important to those voters because it talks about your faith. What John McCain is going to have to do, he's going to have to stop with this -- you know, these whole ages of intolerance point that he made in 2000, and deal with the fact that sure, it may not be James Dobson. But it might be some patriot pastors. It might be some of the pastors of large congregations, maybe the pastor at present with the Baptist Church in Dallas and some other pastors. He needs to have a conversation with them, to be comfortable with them. Maybe not reveal his faith, but at least make it appear that's he's talking to them and working with them.

BROWN: Mike, what do you think?

MICHAEL GERSON, FMR. SPEECHWRITER FOR PRES. BUSH: Well, I think he has some real advantages when it comes to issues, and not just immigration which appeals to Hispanics. He's the only Republican candidate who can appeal to Hispanic voters in that way on immigration. But also torture, which I think is important to a lot of Roman Catholics. He's taken kind of a moral stand on that issue.

BROWN: But, Mike, these are not issues that he's out there talking about day in and day out.

GERSON: I think he can, though. And I also think it's a little bit unfair. John McCain does not have the same specifically religious approach that George W. Bush did, but he does have a value-oriented approach. It's an approach that's oriented towards military honor and duty, and those also, I think, appeal to a lot of values voters but in a slightly different way than Bush did.

MARTIN: But the problem -- Campbell, the problem --

BROWN: Quick break, Roland.

MARTIN: The problem with that is, is that if you play the values game, now you're letting the Democrats into the game as well. And so, they can play the exact same conversation which is what they're doing with moderates. That's the problem if you want to play on that feel.

BROWN: OK, guys. Stay right there. I want to ask you. Does the Jewish community have a problem with Barack Obama? We're going to get your answer coming up right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Back with me to talk about religion in this election, Dan Gilgoff, Roland Martin and Mike Gerson. And Dan, let me ask you about another demographic crucial to Democrats that Obama is struggling with, and that's Jewish voters. He's been doing some outreach. Why are they having issues with him?

GILGOFF: Right. I think there's a couple of issues. One, he has expressed his willingness to negotiate with Iran. Two, he has a history of making sympathetic statements to the Palestinian cause. But I think, he's doing something smart and that is he's not ignoring the issue. Today, he sat down with Jewish voters, Jewish leaders in Philadelphia. In 2004, John Kerry kind of shrunk from his problems with the Catholic Church.

BROWN: Right.

GILGOFF: Obama is sort of embracing them, talking to these communities. I think he's mitigating a lot of potential damage.

BROWN: Mike, is that what McCain should be doing, do you think? Direct outreach with religious leaders, conservatives, evangelical leaders?

GERSON: I agree. I don't think that he has developed his approach as effectively as some of the Democrats at this point, and that's a problem. But it's a problem he can remedy.

BROWN: And quickly, Roland, you get the last word. I've got about 10 seconds.

MARTIN: Well, I think, for Obama, it has to be about Israel, Israel, Israel. If they get comfortable with his position on that, then I think they'll be able to rally around him and also have prominent Jews or Democrats back him as well.

BROWN: All right. Dan, Roland, Mike, thanks to all of you. That is it for tonight, everybody. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.