An American Baptist minister and spiritual adviser to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal says Hillary Clinton is an even stronger presidential candidate than her husband.

“She is the most effective candidate I’ve ever seen,” author and popular speaker Tony Campolo told the Marion Daily Republican in Marion, Ill.

Campolo visited the White House about once a month during the Clinton administration and was one of three religious leaders the president called on for support and guidance after news of the White House intern sex scandal broke in 1998.

Campolo, in southern Illinois to teach at a conference at a local church, said while the former president’s strongest political asset is his ability to listen, the former first lady is known for researching regions down to the last detail.

“She may be the most astute political genius of our time,” Campolo said. “It’s a strong statement, but I’ve known a lot of politicians, and in terms of developing strategy, Bill Clinton is a great strategist, but in terms of knowing constituencies, nobody beats this woman.”

Campolo said he thinks much of the criticism directed toward the New York senator comes because she is a woman.

“People who are afraid of strong women get turned off by her,” he said. “I always ask one question: name one thing she’s said or done that would warrant that kind of hostility. They never can. You begin to see there’s more male chauvinism in hostility.”

Campolo, long identified as a spokesman for the evangelical left, told the newspaper he isn’t affiliated with a political party but lines up with Republicans on some issues and with Democrats on others.

In a 2004 PBS interview, Campolo agreed with a description of himself as a “reluctant Democrat.”

“Many of us have concerns about the Democratic Party, but we have even more concerns about the Republican Party,” he said on “Religion & Ethics Newsweekly.”

“Thus, we vote Democratic, not because we’re totally in agreement with that party allegiance, but because it seems to be more slanted in the direction that we want to go.”

Campolo is a confirmed speaker for the Jan. 30-Feb. 1 New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta, alongside former Democratic presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but planners of the pan-Baptist gathering insist the agenda is not political but spiritual.

A popular author who has written 34 books, Campolo caught backlash for political overtones in an address at the 2003 Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly, during which he lambasted President Bush’s tax cuts and environmental policies using labels like “evil” and “sick.”

Campolo later apologized for his “intemperate manner” to leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, who objected to comments in his CBF speech like: “I think one of the primary reasons this group exists is because another group said we don’t want women preachers, which is about as evil a statement as one can make.”

“It’s one thing to be wrong, but that isn’t wrong, it’s sinful,” Campolo continued. Quoting a Bible verse admonishing “neglect not the gift that is in you,” Campolo said anybody who frustrates the gift of preaching in women “is an instrument of the devil.”

Campolo’s latest comments about Hillary come amid reports that Democratic presidential candidates have declared open season for courting evangelical votes.

GOP candidates, meanwhile, are jockeying to win support of the Christian Right, viewed as a key bloc in President Bush’s re-election in 2004.

On Tuesday, one influential evangelical wrote 150 top conservative Christian leaders urging them to stop waiting for a Cinderella candidate to emerge and throw their support to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the GOP candidate he said most nearly shares their values.

Mark DeMoss, a public-relations consultant whose client list includes prominent evangelicals Franklin Graham, Focus on the Family, Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ, said with about 100 days to go before the Republicans have a nominee, there is a strong possibility the general election could be between two candidates who are pro-choice on abortion–Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

Given the likelihood the next president will appoint anywhere from two to four Supreme Court justices, DeMoss said he would prefer to see the Republicans select a nominee who opposes abortion, and Romney is the most electable of the pro-life candidates.

“Now, I fully recognize some evangelicals take issue with me for supporting a Mormon for the office of president, and I respect their concerns,” DeMoss wrote. “Indeed, I had to deal with the same concerns in my own heart before offering to help Gov. Romney. But I concluded that I am more concerned that a candidate shares my values than he shares my theology. (If I believed similar theology was paramount in a president, I would be writing this memo urging support of Mike Huckabee.)”

“As a Southern Baptist evangelical and political conservative, I am convinced I have more in common with most Mormons than I do with a liberal Southern Baptist, Methodist, Roman Catholic or a liberal from any other denomination or faith group,” DeMoss continued. “The question shouldn’t be, ‘could I vote for a Mormon,’ but, ‘could I vote for this Mormon?’ After all, Mitt told me there are Mormons he couldn’t vote for (I presume Harry Reid, for example); and there are Southern Baptists I couldn’t vote for (Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Al Gore, to name a few).”

Another Christian Right leader, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, said Romney has been the strongest candidate on “core social issues” important to religious conservatives.

Bob Allen is managing editor of

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