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CNN ELECTION CENTER

Clinton Apologizes For Controversial Remark; Pastor Politics; "The 5th District Bombshell" Hits the GOP; John McCain Releases His Medical Records

Aired May 23, 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: Hi, everybody.
On a get-out-of-town Friday, at the start of a three-day weekend, things are supposed to be quiet, right? But it's anything but. Look at what came out today: John McCain's medical records, Cindy McCain's income taxes, and Hillary Clinton caused a political flash firestorm that she had to rush to extinguish.

And we are starting tonight with that breaking news.

This afternoon, talking on camera with the editorial board of "The Argus Leader" -- this is the daily news paper in Sioux Falls, South Dakota -- Clinton was asked why she's staying in the race.

And here it is, as posted on the paper's Web site. Her remark about Robert Kennedy's assassination is what lit the fuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Between my opponent and his camp and some in the media, there has been this urgency to end this. And, you know, historically, that makes no sense. So, I find it a bit of a mystery.

QUESTION: You don't buy the party unity argument?

(CROSSTALK)

CLINTON: I don't, because, again, I have been around long enough. My husband did not wrap up the nomination in 1992 until he won the California primary somewhere in the middle of June.

QUESTION: June.

CLINTON: Right? We all remember, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June in California. You know, I just -- I don't understand it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Now, Clinton's RFK reference almost immediately turned up on the Web, with bloggers spinning it as Clinton implying should is still in the race because Obama could be assassinated, even though that isn't what she said. But the story had legs.

And an Obama spokesman put out a response -- quote -- "Senator Clinton's statement before the 'Argus Leader' editorial board was unfortunate and has no place in this campaign."

Minutes later, Clinton appeared at a hastily arranged news conference in a grocery store.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: In the course of that discussion, mentioned the campaigns that both my husband and Senator Kennedy waged in California in June in 1992 and 1968.

And I was referencing those to make the point that we have had nomination primary contests that go into June. That's a historic fact.

The Kennedys have been much on my mind the last days because of Senator Kennedy. And, i, you know, regret that if my referencing that moment of trauma for our entire nation and particularly for the Kennedy family was in any way offensive. I certainly had no intention of that whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: Now, just moments ago, the Kennedy family accepted that explanation.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr just gave this statement "The New York Times" saying -- quote -- "It sounds like she was invoking a familiar historical circumstance in support of her argument for continuing her campaign."

Now, this is Memorial Day weekend. So, the question is, will this blow over unnoticed or will it be the only thing voters hear about for the next three days?

With me now to talk about all this, Republican analyst Kevin Madden, who was national press secretary for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, Hilary Rosen, political director for "The Huffington Post" and a Clinton supporter, and CNN political analyst and talk radio host Roland Martin.

And, guys, I just want to say up front that I have no problem taking her at her word. I believe that she misspoke. And I have a hard time believing Hillary Clinton was actually thinking about Obama possibly being assassinated and that being her in, in this campaign.

Does anybody disagree with me here -- Kevin?

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER ROMNEY CAMPAIGN NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY: You know what? I actually don't. I think that the fact that the Clinton campaign went out very quickly and explained it says more about the fallout that they expect from these comments than the fact that they were trying to change people's mind that she actually really believes that an assassination was going to happen and was going to help her campaign.

But I do believe that -- I have to just analyze this from a news cycle standpoint. I do believe that this is going to be used by many of Hillary Clinton's critics to give -- lend credence to the argument questioning her motives for staying in the race.

Whether or not that was the true intent of her statement, that's up for the Clinton campaign to argue, but her critics will absolutely use it against her. And with lot of exposed raw nerves in this campaign, this one hit a raw nerve.

BROWN: Roland, what did you think of what she said?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, obviously -- first of all, Campbell, I just landed in Phoenix. That's why I have got my Phoenix look on right now.

It was an idiotic statement. And at some point, you have to think before you actually say something. Now, I understand the whole argument she's been making about going into June, but to even remotely reference the assassination of Bobby Kennedy absolutely makes no sense.

Now, Campbell, just one slight thing. Initially, the Clinton campaign defended the initial argument by saying, oh, it's ludicrous for anybody to read into this. Then they came out with the apology.

But, look, this week, she talked about the whole deal of bringing up Jim Crow and slavery and civil rights going into Florida, and this comment here. It's like, look, just simply stay where you are. And that is just simply end this whole deal in June. Let everybody run out. But you don't have to bring up Bobby Kennedy's assassination. That's crazy.

BROWN: Let me get Hilary in here.

Hilary, what did you think?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, I think there's universal view that she didn't mean the worst intentions that people are going to try and impugn on her.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Well, not universal. Roland said it was a pretty stupid thing to say.

ROSEN: Well, she, herself, said it was a stupid thing to say.

So I think -- but the issue is whether she meant something more insidious by it, whether she actually thought she was in the race to wait for an assassination.

You know, the "Argus" editorial board, where she was, actually defended her today, which was kind of unusual for a bunch of reporters, to say, well, this was really in context of a question about the length of the primary season, not really about your excuse for staying in the race. So I think that the biggest problem here is that enough people are putting pressure on Senator Clinton to justify her staying in that every time she gets off her own script, she risks messing up the story. Really, her reason for staying in is because people want to keep voting. That's her best reason for staying in.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: But here's my question to you. You have got to say, this whole episode really does say something about what people think of Hillary Clinton, that they would assume that for political gain she would raise the prospect of an Obama assassination.

It shows that there are a lot of people out there who are really willing to think the worst about her, don't you think?

ROSEN: I think that's right, although I think frankly that people would react that way to any politician saying something like that. I don't think that's particularly unique to Hillary Clinton.

MADDEN: You know what, Campbell? I think that there's a human element here that we all have to read into as well.

It's very human for somebody, especially candidate who is out on the campaign trail 18 hours a day, to make a mistake. But it's also very human that those who are critics of Hillary Clinton will read a lot more into it, given the fact the constantly -- or her motives for staying in this race are constantly being questioned.

ROSEN: And I think that's right. And we ought to just take her at her word.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: And this is all in some respects going to be well decided by next Saturday. The Rules Committee, her most -- her biggest energy is about Florida and Michigan. The committee is going to decide that on Saturday.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN: Well, unfortunately, this is going to be a major, major distraction.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Well, I was going to say, is this the moment where you get the message, hey, you know what, it's time to get out, it's time to close up shop?

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: This is going to go on all weekend. And it's up to her to make people believe that what she said is accurate.

BROWN: OK, Roland, go ahead. MARTIN: And, Campbell, and I think one of the issues there is, is that, again, this is just another element for -- for even superdelegates to say, look, it's time for us to end this, because it's one after another.

And we have to be very sensitive. The paper in Atlanta running this photo of Obama with a scope on it. Mike Huckabee of course made a joke before the NRA about Obama having a gun pointed at him. It's a sensitive topic because of the nature -- historical nature of his candidacy. That also adds to it.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: And we can't ignore that as well.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSEN: I think Hillary Clinton understands that, which is why they came out so quickly and apologized.

But, you know, Roland and Kevin are right. That doesn't mean that this is going to go away for her. She's going to have to address this over the next several days, consistently making the case about why she is staying in.

BROWN: And possibly do you think, Kevin, that this could be what sparks sort of that rush of superdelegates that we haven't yet seen in going in favor of Obama?

MADDEN: No, that's right, Campbell. That's the biggest problem here, is that, over the next three days and probably after the holiday weekend, for a few days more, this is all people are going to be talking about. It's what superdelegates are going to be talking about.

BROWN: Right.

MADDEN: It's what voters out in these primary contests are going to be talking about. It's going to really distract Hillary Clinton from offering a more salient message about her candidacy to voters.

BROWN: OK, Kevin and Hilary, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

Have a great long weekend, guys.

MADDEN: Thank you.

ROSEN: Thanks.

BROWN: Roland, you're sticking with us. I know you're coming back a little bit later.

Another weekend story we're going to cover tonight, John McCain's pastor problem. You will remember, yesterday, McCain rejected the endorsement he had sought from evangelical leader John Hagee. Well, today, Hagee had a lot to say about that. And we're going to have all of it for you coming up in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: There are new aftershocks from John McCain's pastor problem.

McCain rejected the endorsement of conservative evangelical Pastor John Hagee because Hagee's comments about Catholics and Jews had become a political liability. Well, the tipping point was a sermon where Hagee drawing on the Bible implied that Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust were part of God's plan to return the Jews to Israel.

Today, Hagee himself spoke out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, CORNERSTONE CHURCH: The past 24 hours have been extremely painful and disappointing to me.

My disappointment has nothing to do with the fact that I parted company with Senator John McCain. This was by far the best for both of us and best for the country. It is time for the candidates and the media to turn their attention back to the pressing issues of our day and stop focusing upon what I did or did not say decades ago.

To hear people who know nothing about me or my life's work claim that I somehow excused the Holocaust is simply untrue and heartbreaking.

Let me be clear. To assert that I in any way condoned the Holocaust or that monster Adolf Hitler is the most vicious of lies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: McCain is now calling Hagee's original remarks indefensible.

And here's what he told reporters last night while campaigning in California.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The statement is crazy and unacceptable.

And, certainly, Reverend Hagee, Pastor Hagee is entitled to his views. But we have reached a point where that kind of statement, simply, I would not -- I would reject the endorsement and the expression of those kinds of views.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: John McCain had originally courted Hagee for his endorsement to shore up his standing with evangelical Christian voters.

But Hagee's views were controversial long before McCain got politically burned by them.

CNN's Joe Johns now has an in-depth look at what Hagee stands for and why.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a bitterly cold night in Dallas, a Jewish shofar horn announces a call to prayer and celebration. But this isn't a synagogue. It's a church. And the people you see here aren't Jews. They are evangelical Christians.

Tonight, the New Beginnings Church is hosting a night to honor Israel. It's a window into a complicated and controversial new alliance between Jews and conservative evangelical Christians.

HAGEE: Because there's a new day in Christianity when the Jews and the Christians are coming together.

JOHNS: Pastor John Hagee is a pioneer in the booming evangelical movement known as Christian Zionism.

(on camera): What is a Christian Zionist?

HAGEE: A Christian Zionist is someone who believes that Israel has the right to exist. Israel is the only nation on the face of the earth created by a sovereign act of God.

You were, you are and always shall be the apple of God's eye.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

JOHNS: By his own accounting, Hagee has raised more than $18 million for Israeli charity. And, this summer, he brought 3,500 evangelicals to Washington to lobby for a hard-line, give-no-ground pro-Israel agenda.

As he sees it, he's following God's law, as written in the Bible.

HAGEE: We support Israel because Genesis 12:3, God says, "I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you." That's God's foreign policy toward Israel and the Jewish people.

JOHNS: Many evangelicals believe that foreign policy will culminate in an epic battle of good vs. evil. The view tonight in Dallas connects that belief with concerns about violent extremist Muslims. For these Christians, evil incarnate can be found in radical Islam.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let it be known in Tehran, in Damascus, in Beirut that we, too, stand as watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And all God's people shouted, Amen. JOHNS: At New Beginnings, Pastor Larry Huch encourages Christians to reconnect with what he calls their Jewish roots. The church hosts a monthly Shabbat service, some members of the congregation wearing yarmulkes.

PASTOR LARRY HUCH, NEW BEGINNINGS CHURCH: What we're reading is a Jewish book, written by Jewish apostles, by Jewish prophets about a Jewish messiah.

JOHNS: Israel asked Pat Robertson and John Hagee to film tourism commercials to air on Christian television.

PAT ROBERTSON, HOST, "THE 700 CLUB": To walk where Jesus walked, to pray where Jesus prayed.

JOHNS: The past is precious, but many evangelicals also see Israel as the key to the future as well. God's ultimate promise, many believe, will be realized in Jerusalem, and sooner than you might think.

(on camera): What's the most important reason to have a connection with Israel?

SCOTT DITCHFIELD, SUPPORTER OF ISRAEL: I believe they play a key role in the end times. I believe we're in the end times.

JOHNS: Do you see what's been happening in the Middle East as the beginning of the end of times?

HUCH: The beginning of the end as we know it, yes. Yes. You look at the bible and you see all these things lining up and it's not a coincidence. It is -- it is the end of the ages as we know it.

JOHNS: Pastor Huch believes Israel will be the final battleground for an epic clash between God and Satan, a biblically foretold chain of events already in motion. And there's a heavenly reward just around the corner for true Christians. But where, one wonders, does that leave the Jews?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: When we come back, more details on Pastor Hagee and why he wields so much influence. His television ministry is worldwide, beamed to 250 countries. For his flock, the idea of Armageddon is very real.

Stay with us. We're going to have much more on it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: More now of our in-depth look of Pastor John Hagee.

As we said, his preaching is heavily focused on the end of the world and the final battle between good and evil. His followers believe Jews and Christians must join together in that fight. But, when the end arrives, what happens to the Jews? Here again, CNN's Joe Johns.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): This place is devoted to looking at the past to predict the future. It's a center of evangelical faith. And the faithful here say, the end of the world is coming, but don't say when.

This is the Dallas Theological Seminary, and the scholars here believe God put Israel at the center of both our past and our future.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He will establish his kingdom in Israel and...

JOHNS: Students here are taught a calendar of biblical events. It's a countdown to the end of days. But that doesn't come until after the faithful simply vanish from the earth. It's called the rapture. Professor Darrell Bock has been teaching here since 1982.

DARRELL BOCK, DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: But the next thing that happens on the calendar is that Christ comes to gather his church. They're raptured or taken out the world to be with him in heaven. He meets them in the clouds.

JOHNS: The rapture is vividly described in the wildly popular series of books and movies called, "Left Behind."

This scene from the movie illustrates the moment God summons true believers to heaving. They simply vanish, leaving just their crumpled clothes. It's an event Pastor John Hagee takes a bit further. He believes not only that the end is coming, but that it's coming soon.

HAGEE: I not only believe it could happen in my lifetime, I believe it could happen any day at any hour. And that includes this day and this hour. I believe we're that close.

JOHNS: For proof, he points to the formation of Israel in 1948, a key event in the Bible's prophecy.

HAGEE: When my father's generation was talking about the rapture, Israel had to be a state. Israel is now a state. Jerusalem had to be under the control of the Jewish people. Jerusalem is now under the control of the Jewish people.

JOHNS (on camera): The Jews, who you support, are raptured up, too?

HAGEE: No. The rapture is exclusively for the church.

JOHNS (voice-over): If you believe this, it's not good for the Jews. They will either perish or convert.

Ken Jacobson, of the Anti-Defamation League, says he's not concerned.

KEN JACOBSON, ANTI-DEFAMATION LEAGUE: You know, we kind of feel like we'll worry about that when it comes. Meanwhile, in a world where Israel is under siege, having so many millions of evangelical Americans supporting Israel is of immense benefit.

HAGEE: Ladies and gentlemen of America, we are at war. It is a war of good versus evil.

JOHNS: Pastor Hagee also sees the chaos in the Middle East as a clear sign that the end is near. But back at the seminary, apocalypse now? they have heard it all before.

MARK BAILEY, PRESIDENT, DALLAS THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: We at Dallas seminary get calls every time there's a disaster. We get calls, is this the apocalypse? You know, is this the end of it? What does this mean? So I think any time there's a conflict that relates to a Middle Eastern setting, people are wondering how does this fit in to the biblical scope?

JOHNS: In a 2002 CNN/"TIME" poll, more than half of all Americans say they believe in the wondrous and terrifying end of time events laid out in the New Testament's book of Revelation.

Jesus wins a glorious victory over the Antichrist in the battle of Armageddon. The site of that battle, of course, would be Israel.

BOCK: When I was growing up and coming to seminary, which was in the '70s, there was almost an Antichrist candidate of the year.

JOHNS: Among them, every leader of the former Soviet Union -- Henry Kissinger, Saddam Hussein. For some conservative evangelicals, this year's choice seems clear.

HAGEE: There is a new Hitler and he is the president of Iran, Mr. Ahmadinejad. Pharaoh threatened Israel and he wound up as fish food in the Red Sea.

JOHNS: But Professor Bock says all the worry and guesswork is pointless.

BOCK: There's a clock, but there's only one person who knows what time it is.

JOHNS: But ask John Hagee and he'll tell you with righteous certainty that time is running out.

Joe Johns, CNN, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: In a moment, more on John Hagee and the political aftershocks of his remarks. Will his endorsement cause any damage to the McCain campaign? Will McCain's rejection of Hagee hurt his standing with the religious right?

That next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Joining me now with their take on the political fallout of the Hagee controversy are three analysts who have been taking the pulse of this all day.

Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which supports conservative Christian values. CNN political analyst Roland Martin, his book "Listening to the Spirit Within" is about faith in everyday life. And Dan Gilgoff, who is political editor of Beliefnet.com, he's also the author of "The Jesus Machine: A Study of Evangelical Politics."

Welcome to everybody.

And, Dan, let me start with you, because I want to help you -- have you sort of sort of this out for us. John Hagee and also Pastor Rod Parsley, they are two pastors John McCain embraced, and then rejected, based on their views. They are not household names to a lot of people, pretty prominent, though, in the evangelical community. And their views weren't exactly a secret, right?

DAN GILGOFF, POLITICAL EDITOR, BELIEFNET.COM: No, that's absolutely true.

Both these guys have pretty big platforms. Someone like Hagee is a national figure. He's really the face, as Joe Johns pointed out, of Christian Zionism in this country. He's considered in the evangelical movement the best friend in this country that Israel has, has raised tens of millions of dollars for them.

BROWN: Right.

GILGOFF: Someone like Parsley is big in Ohio. That might not seem like much, but, if you remember the 2004 election, the election swung in Ohio. And that's what put Bush back in the White House. It was largely because of folks like Parsley and other Christian right figures operating there.

BROWN: Who were getting out the vote and raising turnout, and...

GILGOFF: Absolutely. Yes.

BROWN: OK.

Tony, so, how does all this look to evangelicals? Here's John McCain, who has struggled to win over this group of people. And now he's out of hand, repudiating these pastors. What's the fallout?

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, I don't think it's going to make people stand in line to endorse him. I think it's going to cause some problems for him. In fact, I heard somebody say he would make a great Baptist deacon. I mean, he fired -- he ran off two pastors in one day.

I think it's going to be problematic for him, because he needs evangelical leaders to be standing with him, because he has -- he does not have that -- that connection with the base. And, so, he needs kind of their seal of approval or their -- a sign that he's OK. And that's -- this is -- this is going to set him back, I believe.

BROWN: Roland, you know, we're talking about religion here.

MARTIN: Campbell, I...

BROWN: Pastors, you know, they're not politicians. Faith is certainly not one size fits all. Should politicians be held responsible for the views of religious leaders which, in this case, of McCain and Parsley and Hagee, religious leaders that they barely know?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I've always maintained that there is a difference between the theological world and the secular world. And no politician should not be held accountable to the words of pastors, whether it's a pastor they know for a short term or long term.

And that's really the whole issue here, Campbell, and that is what happens in the theological realm. When you listen to Rod Parsley who calls for the -- to say that America was founded to destroy Islam, then he says, well, I was really speaking about extremist Muslims, when in fact he was saying all of Islam.

In a theological context, people get that. But once you go outside of that, where you have to then negotiate in this world with Islamic countries, then that's when it becomes a problem. And so, we're going to see more of this. What happens in the pulpit is far different what happens in politics.

BROWN: Go ahead, Dan.

DAN GILGOFF, POLITICAL EDITOR, BELIEFNET.COM: I think it's really important to jump on something that Tony --

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: Hold on one second.

GILGOFF: I think it's important to echo something that Tony said, and that is, you know, there are some parallels between John McCain and Ronald Reagan running for president in 1980.

Reagan had a lot of difficulty reaching out to the Christian right because he had been divorced, he had been governor of California, hailing from Hollywood. He had signed a relatively liberal law on abortion in that state. But he went to a big Christian right gathering in Texas and he said, I know you can't endorse me, but I endorse you and everything you do. But a huge turning point in Reagan's 1980 campaign.

Now, here we are, 28 years later and the Christian right is a much bigger force in Republican politics. And you have McCain saying I can't endorse you. Even though this person endorses me, I disown that endorsement. And so, it's a massive turnabout for the Republican Party.

BROWN: Tony, what does he do? What does McCain do? PERKINS: Well, I'm not quite sure. I mean, this is a very interesting election cycle. You have the Democratic Party, which historically has been a little hostile to religion in the public square, has all the appearances that they have gotten religion, while the Republicans appear to have gotten agnostic and run off with the church organist.

I mean, there are almost completely reversed roles in here. And so, I think, you're going to have evangelicals paying a lot closer attention ultimately to voting records to discern between the candidates, because John McCain won't talk about faith, values. But then you have Barack Obama and even Hillary Clinton talking more about faith.

I would say, though, this has been a very troubling week for the John McCain campaign, because I think it would be very difficult to overcome this. They need the support of prominent evangelicals, and they have just poured cold water on that with this week's events.

BROWN: All right.

MARTIN: And Campbell --

BROWN: Hang on, Roland. Guys -- Roland, we got to take a quick break. Stay with us.

We could hardly believe the story when we first heard about it, the one coming up. But in Oregon, an agreement between two Republican primary candidates blew up. They had agreed to run a clean race, not to hurt each other. But what happened in the final stretch can only be described as a spectacular mess. We're going to have the political post mortem when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The Republican National Convention begins 100 days from today in Saint Paul, Minnesota. We had been telling you a lot about a party in peril, Republicans on the ropes trying to avoid an avalanche of losses in House and Senate races. Among the causes, an unpopular president, an unpopular war, and a dismal economy.

Still, the GOP thought it had a real shot at winning this one open House seat in Oregon. But now, scandal and accusations of sex, drugs and abortion threaten to dash their hopes. CNN's Dan Simon reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He won on Tuesday, so Mike Erickson will be the Republican candidate for a House seat in Congress.

MIKE ERICKSON (R), CANDIDATE FOR CONGRESS: First of all, I want to thank you guys. Thank you.

SIMON: For Republicans, it should have been a great moment. Should have been because Erickson is strong on family values and rich enough to finance a lot of his campaign. And if what some would call it gloomy year for the GOP, he looked like a good bet to win a seat.

But just days before he won, the campaign went off the rails. Here's his opponent, Kevin Mannix.

SIMON (on camera): Do you have any doubt that the allegations are true?

KEVIN MANNIX (R), FMR. HOUSE CANDIDATE: I have no doubts. Sometimes things that are distasteful have to be brought forward so we can come to a collective judgment for the greater good. And in this case, we are dealing with a character issue.

SIMON: Character issues? Sounds like a political hit job, right? What makes this especially messy is that both candidates promised to run clean and fair campaigns. The idea was that the GOP didn't want them to bloody up each other so that whoever won could have a good chance of beating the Democrat in the fall. That was the plan, anyway.

SIMON (voice-over): The plan was shattered when Mannix sent Republican voters this mailer. It alleges Erickson used cocaine, got a woman pregnant, and took her for an abortion.

ERICKSON: I've watched politics and followed on elections for a long time. I have never seen something this dirty, this disruptive, and this outright wrong. It's just lies and it's just hurtful.

SIMON: It was called "The 5th District bombshell" and it came out a week before the primary. Erickson denies everything.

ERICKSON: I never dropped in an abortion clinic. I never asked her to get an abortion, never encouraged her to get an abortion. It's just not true. So, I know what I did.

ERICKSON: The problem, many found Erickson's story, well, suspicious. He admits taking the woman to a doctor, giving her $300, but says he had no idea what the money or the appointment was for.

MANNIX: Anybody with common sense hearing the story would say, wait a minute.

SIMON: "The Oregonian," the state's biggest newspaper called it a late but legitimate charge. The damage has been swift. Oregon Right to Life, which at one time endorsed Erickson, says they interviewed the ex-girlfriend and believed her. The group thinks Erickson is now a liar and won't support him in the fall.

GAYLE ATTEBERRY, OREGON RIGHT TO LIFE: We will completely stay out of it. I think this story will follow him.

SIMON: As for that agreement not to bloody each other and risk losing the seat to a Democrat, political observers say Erickson is now so weakened, he's an easy target.

STEVE LAW, POLITICAL REPORTER: He has a long way to go to regain, I think, that credibility with voters and with the media.

SIMON: So if the allegations are so damaging, why did Erickson win?

First, he won by just over a thousand votes. Second, Oregon has a unique mail-in ballot system. A third of more of the votes had been turned in before the allegations came to light. Allegations Republicans can only hope won't sink their candidate in the fall.

Dan Simon, CNN, Lake Oswego, Oregon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Now, for decades, Republicans have boasted that they are the party of family values. When we come back, I'll ask the panel if values could have no value for the GOP in this election. We'll be right back. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: So, how much traction can the GOP count on from family values this fall, especially in races like the one Dan Simon just told us about in Oregon?

We want to ask that of our political panel right now. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, CNN political analyst Roland Martin, and Dan Gilgoff, political editor of Beliefnet.com.

And, Dan, from Larry Craig to Vito Fossella, to the story we just heard in Oregon, a lot of sex scandals in the GOP. This can't be sitting well with their core constituency values voters.

GILGOFF: No, it has really tarnished the Republican brand. It's interesting. You ask Democrats. Democrats didn't even start polling on the so-called values voters until after 2004 when they were beaten so roundly by them. One of the big changes between 2004 and the Congressional takeover of 2006 was that Democrats closed the gap among values voters, from a 30-point lead for Republicans to a 10-point lead for Republicans. This was, of course, because the Mark Foley scandal...

BROWN: Right.

GILGOFF: ... Tom DeLay scandal. And so, as long as that gap stays that narrow, it's very easy for Democrats to win elections.

BROWN: Tony, the Republican Party has won a lot of elections by emphasizing hot button issues, like opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage. Now, with the party facing one of its toughest elections more than a generation, you've got some Republicans out there saying listen, this values stuff is getting us nowhere. We shouldn't put it at the forefront of our campaigns. How do you respond to that?

PERKINS: It's interesting. The Republicans are running from these issues, and the Democrats are running on these issues. I mean, they realize that there are a lot of Americans -- the value voters of 2004 were not all evangelicals. They were people who share the values that evangelicals talk so much about.

But, you know, most Americans share those basic core values. And I think the Republican brand, as Dan said, is in trouble, and this goes back to the 2006 election cycle. In that long train of scandals that derailed the majority, it is still a problem for Republican candidates.

And I can't imagine in today's YouTube world, that a candidate that has something like this in their background would make themselves a candidate, and put themselves out there for this type of scrutiny.

BROWN: Roland, let me put you --

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: But particularly --

BROWN: Hold on, hold on, Roland.

MARTIN: Sure, sure, sure.

BROWN: On the other hand, I want to say I want to follow up on Tony's point, which is that Democrats have made a real effort to recruit socially conservative candidates, who do emphasize the role of faith in their lives. That hasn't always been well received by people in the Democratic Party who say, wait a minute, these guys don't seem like Democrats at all.

MARTIN: But, again, though, Campbell, it goes beyond being socially conservative. There are a significant number of people who are people of faith who do not call themselves Republicans, who will say I am not a Democrat. They're right there in the middle.

And so, you look at the result of Reverend Jim Wallace and other progressive evangelicals have been doing. And look, even the term evangelical, it used to be when you said that word, you all have thoughts about somebody who is on the religious right. That's not the case. There are people who are evangelicals who are also on the left.

What Democrats have begun to say is that, wait a minute. Let's broaden the various discussions beyond abortion and homosexuality. That's what you got going on here, and Republicans cannot appear to be hypocrites by saying oh, we're the party of family values. But, yes, we have all these people, David Vitter and others...

BROWN: Right.

MARTIN: ... who have these sex problems and then -- because they can't carry the day.

BROWN: Tony, I --

MARTIN: People will call you a hypocrite and it's showing.

BROWN: Tony, quickly, I'll give you the last word. What do you think Republicans should do?

PERKINS: Well, I don't think they should run from what has been their core constituency, the value issues. Even though, you know, no one is perfect, I do think they need to vet their candidates better and make sure they have candidates who live out those values if they're going to be the party of those values. And if they want to be the majority party, I think they're going to have to be the party that identifies with those core values issues.

BROWN: Right. Tony, Roland and Dan, thanks so much, guys. Appreciate it.

For a few hours today, under strict rules set by the McCain campaign, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta got to review John McCain's medical records. The campaign delayed the release of those records for months. And in a few moments, Sanjay is going to have for us a medical briefing on all the details. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: In yet another holiday Friday surprise, John McCain's campaign finally released some details of his wife's finances. Cindy McCain is the daughter of a multimillionaire Arizona beer distributor. The McCain's have separate assets and file separate taxes under a pre- nuptial agreement.

Well, two weeks ago, Cindy McCain said she would never make her tax returns public. Well, surprise. This afternoon, the campaign released the top two summary pages of her 2006 tax returns. She made more than $6 million that year and paid $1.7 million in taxes.

Senator McCain released his 2007 returns last month, reporting a total income of $405,000 and paying about $84,000 in taxes.

So now, we turn from McCain's money to his health. If he is elected, he will be the oldest first term president in U.S. history, which makes today's release of his medical records one of the most anticipated events of the campaign. And the timing of their release at the start of the holiday weekend when hardly anybody is paying attention raised even more questions.

That's why we sent our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta to suburban Phoenix to take a look -- Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you did send me there on a Friday before Memorial Day weekend. I noted that, Campbell.

Look, there was a lot of detail. That was almost 1,200 pages of medical records and you saw the details. It's almost voyeuristic to look at so much detail about this man, including his cancer history, which are worth paying attention, his heart history, even getting a look at his colonoscopy.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GUPTA (voice-over): We've seen Senator John McCain crisscrossing the country on the campaign trail. But the question is, is he ready for the rigors of the presidency?

Releasing a candidate's medical records is not required, but the McCain campaign had promised to release his and then delayed the release for months. And then today, they allowed us to review the records but only under extremely restrictive conditions.

GUPTA (on camera): It's sort of a little bit of a different experience that I'm used to as a medical doctor. We're going to be sort of ensconced in this room for a period of time. No electronic devices are allowed in. I have my notes, sort of prepared the things that I'm looking for. And we're going to see what we find.

GUPTA (voice-over): We're learning just how extensive McCain's operation from melanoma was in 2000. Doctors removed 34 lymph nodes in his neck. Doctors say the high number was due to an abundance of caution. He still has swelling that is obvious.

McCain's had melanoma removed four times, the most recent in 2002. There's a 66 percent chance of it recurring within 10 years. Eight years have already passed.

Also new, McCain had skin cancer taken off his leg in February, squamous cell carcinoma. Something we didn't know about until now. His campaign insists it's under control.

Blood pressure: 134/84. Fine. Cholesterol: 192. That's down from 226 just five years ago. It looks like the medications are helping here.

He's also had an operation to reduce the size of his prostate. He smoked two packs a day for 25 years, up to 1980, and had polyps removed from his colon. But no signs of cancer from any of those.

He was beaten and tortured while a POW. His shoulders were both broken. To this day, he can't lift them over his head, and doctors say he may need both shoulders replaced.

He does get dizzy from time to time, especially when tipping his head back. Diagnosis: Vertigo, a problem with his inner ear.

As far as fitness goes, medical records had him at both 5'6" and 5'9." We'll go with 5'9". Weight: 163. That puts his BMI at 24. Pretty good, pushing the normal limit.

His heart and circulatory system were all within normal limits for a man his age. There was hardly any mention of his mental health. And while he trots out his 96-year-old mother on the campaign trail, it is worth noting his father died at age 70 of a stroke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Sanjay, you mentioned that McCain did have some skin cancer removed from his leg, apparently kept secret until now. And he's now had five different skin cancers removed. Is this cause for concern at all? His doctors say it's under control, but what exactly does that mean?

GUPTA: Well, I think the answer is yes and no. There is cause for concern. I think every time someone has skin cancer, their chance of having another skin cancer goes up. So we sort of did some calculations.

There's roughly about 20 percent chance of having another skin cancer sometime in the future. But having said that, you know, I really look for these documented notes from his dermatologist, and they came in on the clock. You know, every three to four months, he's getting that skin exam, and they're taking care of things very quickly. So, I think it's almost that he's almost more diligent about it maybe that someone who hadn't had skin cancer.

BROWN: And certainly, the five years that Senator McCain was held as a POW by the Viet Cong is significant. What struck you about his psychiatric or his neurological record?

GUPTA: Well, there's a couple of things that really struck me. One is that it's hardly mentioned in any of them. Again, there's almost 1,200 pages there and it's hardly mentioned. Every note from a doctor begins with, you know, Senator McCain is a pleasant and cooperative patient. They make a point of saying that.

But it was difficult to read, frankly, some of the details about his time in captivity. The time he broke both of his shoulders and he's going probably at some point in the future need those shoulders operated, even replaced.

You know, they talked about, you know, the fact that he was bayoneted, he was tortured. But also like there was something that really struck me. They say, you know, for a long time afterwards, every time he would hear a sort of jangle of keys, he would get tensed up, because it reminded him of those prison guards. He was never officially diagnosed with PTSD, but he did see a Navy psychologist for some time after he returned.

BROWN: All right. Sanjay, appreciate it. Thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thanks, Campbell.

BROWN: And when we return, more of the day's news including the latest on the big child custody case involving that Texas polygamous sect. Some of the children could be heading home. We've got that and more just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Still ahead tonight, our Congress at work or maybe not on rising gas prices. But first, Erica Hill joins us with "The Briefing" -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Campbell, a glimmer of hope for Myanmar cyclone victims. Three weeks now after the storm, the military government there has finally agreed to allow foreign aid workers into the Irrawaddy Delta. That is where more than 130,000 people are dead or missing. But American, British and French warships carrying food, water and supplies will not be allowed to dock in Myanmar.

In China where the earthquake death toll is now over 55,000, the government is asking for more help, specifically millions of tents which are needed to house the homeless. Workers, meantime, are blocking off dozens of radiation hot spots found in the rubble.

In Texas, 12 children taken from a polygamous compound were released from foster care today and returned to their parents. It happened that state officials promised to appeal yesterday's ruling in the custody case. A court found the state had no right to remove the 460 children from the YFZ compound last month.

And a little something new for your collection perhaps. For the first time in over 90 years, Faberge will be making more of its famous eggs in the near future, Campbell.

BROWN: Have to pick one up. Erica, thanks.

This won't be much of a holiday weekend for millions of us. Thanks to rising gas prices. You'd think Congress would be doing everything possible about this? Not really.

We're going to show you what they're doing instead with our tax dollars. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: If you're driving this Memorial Day, you won't be able to ignore those soaring gas prices. The cost of a gallon of gas climbed 4 cents just last night to a new nationwide average of $3.87 a gallon. That is a whopping 20 percent jump since Memorial Day weekend last year. In seven states, the average gas price is already more than $4 a gallon.

Earlier this week, Congress called oil industry executives up to the Hill to ask them what exactly is going on. So one might think that Congress would spend the rest of the week trying to get something done about all this.

Instead, take a look at this. This is the halls of Congress earlier today. Pretty quiet there, not much going on. We'll see what they do next week.

That's it for me in the ELECTION CENTER. Have a great weekend. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.