MIAMI (CNN) - Despite his newfound willingness to make political hay out of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, John McCain insisted three separate times on Monday he does not believe Barack Obama shares Wright’s “extremist views.”
McCain, campaigning in South Florida, faced a series of questions about Wright from reporters shortly after the pastor made a defiant public appearance at the National Press Club in Washington, in which he defended his church and condemned the national media.
“I’ve said again and again, I do not believe that Sen. Obama shares Rev. Wright’s extremist views which he has stated, whether it be the United States Marine Corps or the flag or what,” McCain said. “I am leaving that issue to a dialogue between Sen. Obama and American people.”
In another press conference held Sunday, McCain broached the topic of Wright unprompted for the first time, despite previous suggestions that the Wright issue would be an out-of-bounds topic in the presidential race.
McCain said his shifting stance on Wright was justified because Obama told “Fox News Sunday” that the controversy surrounding his ex-pastor was “a legitimate political issue.”
The presumptive Republican nominee repeated that explanation on Monday.
“As I said before I am of the belief that Sen. Obama does not reflect the extremist statements that Rev. Wright has given,” McCain said. “I have no comments on it, but I also understand why millions of Americans may, as Sen. Obama said yesterday, view this as a political issue.”
However, McCain appeared to change his position on whether state Republican parties or downballot GOP candidates should exploit the Wright issue in local campaigns.
The Arizona senator last week told the North Carolina GOP not to run an ad linking the state’s Democratic candidates for governor - both Obama supporters - to Rev. Wright. But on Monday, McCain said he would no longer weigh on such matters.
“I will not be a referee,” he said.