WASHINGTON – Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who remarried one month after his 1980 divorce, said Friday that the personal lives of White House hopefuls shouldn't become an issue in the 2008 campaign.
"I would like to see this campaign conducted on past record and ambition for the future," McCain told reporters after a fundraising luncheon in Charlotte, N.C. "I would hope that gossip — or, quote, 'family issues' — would not enter into this campaign."
McCain's call to keep personal lives private came the same week that chief rival Rudy Giuliani asked for privacy as he deals with strained relationships within his family, including estrangement from his children.
The Arizona senator's remarks also came as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a potential candidate for the GOP nomination, admitted to having an affair at the same time he was leading the effort to impeach President Clinton for allegations of perjury connected with the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Another Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, has emphasized his 38-year marriage.
Richard Land, head of public policy for the Southern Baptist Convention, has said religious voters may have deep doubts about Giuliani, who has been married three times. Land told The Associated Press that evangelicals believe the former New York City mayor showed a lack of character during his divorce from second wife, television personality Donna Hanover.
"I mean, this is divorce on steroids," Land said. "To publicly humiliate your wife in that way, and your children. That's rough. I think that's going to be an awfully hard sell, even if he weren't pro-choice and pro-gun control."
McCain, who divorced and remarried, said evangelical conservatives are "free to make whatever judgments they want to make." He noted his improved ties with conservative Christian leaders, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell.
In the 2000 campaign, McCain called Falwell and others "agents of intolerance." Last year, McCain spoke at Falwell's Liberty University.
"I am a great believer in redemption — given my life," said McCain, a prisoner of war in Vietnam. "People's family difficulties should be kept private as much as possible."
McCain also received the endorsement of North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr.