HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has long identified himself as an Episcopalian, said this weekend that he is a Baptist and has been for years.
Campaigning in this conservative, predominantly Baptist state, McCain called himself a Baptist when speaking to reporters Sunday and noted that he and his family have been members of the North Phoenix Baptist Church in his home state of Arizona for more than 15 years.
"It's well known because I'm an active member of the church," the Arizona senator said.
While McCain has long talked about his family's and his own attendance at the Arizona church, he appears to have consistently referred to himself as Episcopalian in media reports.
In a June interview with McClatchy Newspapers, the senator said his wife and two of their children have been baptized in the Arizona Baptist church, but he had not. "I didn't find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs," he said.
He told McClatchy he found the Baptist church more fulfilling than the Episcopalian church, but still referred to himself as an Episcopalian.
The Associated Press asked McCain on Saturday how his Episcopal faith plays a role in his campaign and life. McCain grew up Episcopalian and attended an Episcopal high school in Alexandria, Va.
"It plays a role in my life. By the way, I'm not Episcopalian. I'm Baptist," McCain said. "Do I advertise my faith? Do I talk about it all the time? No."
McCain does discuss faith on the campaign trail. He regularly tells crowds about a North Vietnamese POW guard who would loosen his bindings while he was a prisoner. One Christmas, the man surreptitiously signaled his Christian faith, McCain says, by making the sign of a cross with his toe in the dirt.
McCain said Sunday he doesn't know how his Baptist faith might affect his showing in South Carolina.
"I have no idea," McCain said, laughing. "I was a member of that church in 2000 and it didn't save me then." McCain lost to George W. Bush in the hotly contested South Carolina primary seven years ago.
McCain made the comments after speaking to about 200 people on this resort island during a stop on his "No Surrender" tour, to push for support of U.S. troops and the president's strategy in Iraq.