(CNSNews.com) - Recorded phone messages targeting Michigan voters and attacking Texas Governor George W Bush have prompted a chorus of criticism of his rival, Arizona Senator John McCain, from six Republican governors and a prominent Catholic businessman supporting Bush's presidential bid.
Michigan Governor John Engler, himself a Roman Catholic and advisor to Bush, lead the charge among other a list of other Republican Governors implicating McCain in the attack.
"As a Roman Catholic and someone who has known Governor Bush for years, I am outraged at this malicious attack," Engler said, calling Bush a "man of tolerance who respects others."
Bush campaign officials Monday decried the recorded telephone messages placed to Michigan residents which compared Bush's spending record in Texas to that of "liberal Bill Clinton and the Democrats" in Washington. Another that accuses Bush of engaging in a "negative smear campaign." Residents there complained of a recorded phone message accusing Bush of being anti-Catholic.
"Don't be fooled by George Bush's negative smear campaign. He's attacking John McCain because John wants to rid Washington of the special interests and return government back to us. Let's show them Michigan is different," one of the recorded messages tells residents. The message begins saying the call is a "conservative voter alert."
"What is truly offensive is any effort to try and scare Catholics away from supporting this good man. This shameful strategy is unworthy of Senator McCain," Engler added.
Another call told residents, "The media reports that the Bush campaign has engaged in a win at all costs campaign in South Carolina and here in Michigan George Bush is already running a negative campaign on television. So get ready for a fresh round of negative attacks. Don't be fooled by George Bush's negative smear campaign."
One Detroit-area senior citizen, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told CNSNews.com she received a phone call Monday afternoon during which a male recording "said that Bush accused the Pope of being the anti-Christ when Bush was a speaker at Bob Jones University."
A transcript of that speech reveals no reference to the Pope nor to the anti-Christ and a Bush campaign source denied any such allegation. Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina is known for its conservative Christian standards. University spokesman Jonathan Pait was unavailable to comment on its stand towards Catholics or the implications surrounding the McCain campaign.
None of the messages attacking Bush disclosed who was behind the effort to paint Bush as a big-spending, anti-Catholic candidate. But Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer pointed to the McCain Campaign when residents began complaining about the calls to Bush's Michigan campaign headquarters.
At a campaign rally Monday in Saginaw, Michigan McCain equated himself to Star Wars character Luke Skywalker "trying to get out of the death star" and rattled-off a list of elected officials who've lined up behind Bush.
"They're shooting at me from everywhere," McCain said. "Everybody's against me: Governor Engler, Governor Bush, all the governors, all the Senators. But we're gonna kill 'em, right? We're gonna get 'em. I'm getting out of that death star and we're gonna win this election."
But within hours of those words, calls attacking Bush gave "the governors" ammunition for laser gun target practice. And a prominent pizza delivery chain executive compounded their sentiments with his own words suggesting that the Catholic Church shouldn't be used as a "the force" in politics.
Joining Engler in defense of Bush, Pennsylvania Governor and lifelong Roman Catholic Tom Ridge stopped short of blaming McCain directly, choosing instead to condemn his supporters for choosing to "drive a wedge between Governor Bush and members of the Roman Catholic Church."
"I have worshiped with George W. Bush. He stands for religious and spiritual tolerance and respectfulness and inclusiveness, in his public policies and in his private life," Ridge said." To whisper otherwise in the last desperate moments of a campaign is to try to exploit the Roman Catholic Church for political purposes...which I believe is the real affront to my church."
New York Governor George E. Pataki touted his relationship with Bush since their college days at Yale, calling Bush a "man of inclusion, tolerance and honor." "The attacks against him that imply anything other than that are wrong, malicious and obviously coming from a desperate, political campaign," Pataki said.
Massachusetts Governor Paul Cellucci alluded to McCain's South Carolina concession speech during which the Arizona Senator vowed to take the "high road" to the White House.
Cellucci said McCain "vowed to take the high road even though he had already authorized his campaign to make nasty, negative calls to Michigan Catholics. He should be ashamed."
Recalling a meeting in November with Bush and a number of Jews, Catholics, Mormons and Protestants at the Sea of Galilee, Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, echoed Cellucci's sentiments. "In the shadow of that memory, John McCain's political tactics are shameful," Leavitt said.
"We spoke of our mutual respect for each other's religious beliefs. It was clear to me that day, that (Bush) respects the value of religion on the human soul - all religions," Leavitt added.
Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson called Bush a "man of religious faith whose faith teaches him to be tolerant of others."
"Any suggestion that he is anti-Catholic is outrageous," Thompson said. "As a Catholic, I call on my good friend John McCain to put an end to this kind of campaigning. There is no place for it in this campaign - or any campaign."
Montana Governor Mark Racicot said the messages attacking Bush were an "act of desperation by the McCain campaign" and assured those behind the phone messages that the country's 90 million Catholics "will see through this shallow and unfortunate action."
Michigan native and founder of Domino's Pizza Tom Monahgan is one of the founders of Catholic charities. Monahan denounced the phone calls saying, "As a Roman Catholic, I am offended that my faith is being used as a negative smear tactic to divide people in a political campaign."
Monahan said the calls were a "shameful" effort to "use the Roman Catholic Church as a political tool."