WASHINGTON – If Hillary Rodham Clinton is the Democrats' presidential nominee in 2008, it will motivate conservative evangelical Christians to oppose her more than if the devil himself were running, the Rev. Jerry Falwell has told pastors at a "values" conference.
"I certainly hope that Hillary is the candidate," Falwell, a leading conservative evangelist, said, according to a tape recording of the Friday prayer breakfast attended by several hundred pastors and religious activists.
The recording, first reported in Sunday's Los Angeles Times, was confirmed by someone who attended the conference, but not the breakfast, and has heard the tape.
"I hope she's the candidate, because nothing will energize my (constituency) like Hillary Clinton," Falwell said. "If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."
The "Values Voter Summit" was sponsored by the country's leading conservatives and featured several Republicans who are considering running for president in 2008.
An aide to Falwell said the remarks were off-the-cuff and not intended to demonize the Democratic senator from New York.
Attendees also were assured during the prayer breakfast that God would preserve a Republican majority in Congress.
There was no immediate reaction Sunday from the senator's office.
A possible Republican presidential contender, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, speaking Sunday on CBS television's "Face the Nation" was more temperate about Sen. Clinton. He said she would make a good president in that she would work hard.
"I am sure that she would do a job that is in keeping with her philosophy and her beliefs," he said. "I think we have very different views on the conduct of the presidency. But she works hard as a senator, and I think she knows her issues."
McCain said he will not make a decision on a presidential bid until early next year. But he pledged in a presidential race not to engage in "attack politics."
"I will not run a campaign or be involved in a campaign that engages in that," McCain said. "I'd rather lose than be involved in it."