MONTREAT, N.C. — John McCain met Sunday with evangelist Billy Graham and his son, Franklin, at the family's mountaintop retreat.
The Republican presidential candidate, who is actively courting religious voters and trying to reassure skeptical conservatives, visited privately with the Grahams on the grounds of Little Piney Cove in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina.
"We had a very excellent conversation. I appreciated the opportunity to visit with them," McCain said after the 45-minute meeting.
McCain's visit to North Carolina was his first sit-down with Billy Graham, 89, and with Franklin Graham, although McCain and the elder Graham are acquainted. McCain's father and Billy Graham also knew each other.
The world-renowned evangelist is in poor health but apparently felt well enough to visit with McCain, who flew to North Carolina with the expectation of meeting only with Franklin Graham, who is president and chief executive of the evangelistic association his father founded in 1950.
McCain said he did not know if the Grahams would vote for him. "I didn't ask for their votes," he said, calling them "great leaders."
After the meeting, Franklin Graham issued a statement praising the Arizona senator's "personal faith and his moral clarity."
"The senator and I both have sons currently serving in the military, and also have a common interest in aviation," Franklin Graham said. "I was impressed by his personal faith and his moral clarity on important social issues facing America today."
Franklin Graham said his father told a story about meeting McCain's father, a Navy admiral, on a trip to Vietnam during the war when John McCain was being held as a prisoner of war after his military plane was shot out of the sky. The two prayed for John McCain during his captivity.
Franklin Graham said his father "expressed gratitude for the senator's long and brave service" to the country.
"We had an opportunity to pray for the senator and his family, and for God's will to be done in this upcoming election," Franklin Graham said.
He said he was not endorsing anyone for president, but was urging "men and women of faith everywhere" to vote and be involved in the political process.
"I encourage people to vote for the candidate at every level who best represents their values and convictions, and then to pray for those in authority over us as required in Scripture," Franklin Graham said.
McCain said last week that he did not consider the meeting with Franklin Graham a political one. Earlier this month, Barack Obama, McCain's Democratic rival, met with the younger Graham, who was among some 30 evangelicals Obama met with in Chicago.
"He is a man whose family is respected, incredibly respected, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to meet with him," McCain said of Franklin Graham. "I think the Graham family really transcends politics in America. Billy Graham was an adviser to every president and so I'm not sure that there is any _ there certainly is no political aspect to the meeting that I will have."
Meanwhile, in Washington, Gen. Wesley Clark challenged McCain's claim to be better prepared to be president.
Clark said that while he honored McCain's service as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam war and on the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain has no executive experience and that the Navy squadron McCain commanded was not a wartime squadron.
"He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall," Clark said on "Face the Nation" on CBS.
When moderator Bob Schieffer noted that Obama hadn't had those experiences nor had he ridden in a fighter plane and been shot down, Clark replied: "Well, I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be president."
On the Net:
Billy Graham Evangelistic Association: http://www.billygraham.org