It is perhaps a sign of the times that Republican presidential candidate John McCain has begun to woo women voters. These days he is distancing himself from the anti-women comments of his own supporters and is praising Hillary Clinton eloquently.
Recently he cancelled a fundraiser at the home of a Texas oilman who once joked that women should give in while being raped.
The Texan, Republican Clayton "Claytie" Williams, made the joke during his failed 1990 campaign for governor against Democrat Ann Richards. Williams compared rape to the weather, saying, "As long as it's inevitable, you might as well lie back and enjoy it." He also compared Richards to the cattle on his ranch, saying he would "head her and hoof her and drag her through the dirt."
Richards defeated Williams to serve one term as Texas governor; she lost re-election in 1994 to George W. Bush. Richards died in 2006 after a battle with esophageal cancer.
Williams' comments had made national news at the time and remain easy to find on the Internet. Even so, McCain's campaign said it hadn't known about the remarks.
"These were obviously incredibly offensive remarks that the campaign was unaware of at the time it was scheduled," McCain spokesman Brian Rogers said. "It's positive that he did apologize at the time, but the comments are nonetheless offensive."
But the campaign said it would not return money Williams had raised for McCain because the contributions came from other individuals supporting McCain and not from Williams. Williams told his hometown newspaper, the Midland Reporter-Telegram, that he had raised more than $300,000 for McCain.
Democrats said McCain should give back the money: "Senator McCain's claim of ignorance is no excuse for refusing to do the right thing now. Offensive, disgusting comments like these cannot be tolerated," Democratic National Committee spokeswoman Karen Finney said.
Washington Post said the campaign, when it initially was contacted by the Post and ABC News, questioned why the story was newsworthy; later in the day, the campaign canceled the fundraiser, which had been scheduled for Monday.
The flap comes as McCain's campaign reaches out to women and to backers of Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton. McCain began a
women-focused outreach effort in recent days, sending a well-known female supporter, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, to campaign in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
"I respect and admire the campaign she ran," McCain said Saturday on a telephone town hall meeting. "Every place I go, I'm told that Senator Clinton inspired millions of young women in this country. And not necessarily young women; she inspired a whole generation of young people in this country."
The forum featured questioners, nearly all of them women, who identified themselves as Democrats and independents; McCain's campaign said many were Clinton supporters. McCain also took questions from an in-person audience of about 35 people at his Northern Virginia campaign headquarters; no journalists were present.
One woman pressed McCain on whether he would commit to increase the number of women in government. McCain answered, "I want to assure you with confidence, at the end of my first term, you will see a dramatic increase of women in every part of the government of my administration."
No one on the call asked about the Texas fundraiser.