The television talking heads all agreed that the election was over, which ignited celebrations among the staff and supporters of winner Richard Nixon -- including the world's most famous evangelist.
"We did it," proclaimed the Rev. Billy Graham, according to iconoclastic journalist Joe McGinniss in "The Selling of the President 1968." Graham, he added, went "directly into Nixon's room, without explaining whether 'we' meant Billy Graham and Richard Nixon or Billy Graham and God or perhaps all three together."
Years later, a repentant Graham said he wept and became ill when he heard Nixon's paranoid, profanity-laced chatter on the Watergate tapes. While "America's pastor" kept meeting with presidents -- as he has with every Oval Office occupant since Harry Truman -- he vowed never again to become that attached to a candidate.
The question, for Graham's critics and even some supporters, is whether the national advertising campaign launched on Oct. 18 by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association -- now led by son Franklin Graham -- has crossed that line. The target audience: Readers of USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, key swing-state newspapers and church bulletins nationwide.
"The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial," proclaims one ad. "As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.
"I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman."
It's easy to read between those lines, noted sociologist William Martin, author of "A Prophet With Honor: The Billy Graham Story."
"Billy Graham representatives note that the ads do not mention a specific candidate or party -- an observation intended more for the IRS than for the target audience," wrote Martin, at Christianity Today online.
"Given that former Gov. Mitt Romney opposes same-sex marriage and President Barack Obama supports it (and by doing so, has -- to use Franklin Graham's words -- "shaken his fist" at God), the ads leave no doubt about their intent."
There's more. Romney aides claim that, at the end of a recent meeting with the candidate, the evangelist promised: "I'll do all I can to help you. And you can quote me on that."
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