A report by liberal blogger and author Arianna Huffington that John McCain had admitted not voting for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential race spurred a minor tempest and brought angry denials from McCain's campaign Tuesday.
On her Huffington Post website Monday, the pundit said the presumptive Republican presidential nominee had confided shortly after his bitter loss nearly eight years ago that he had not voted for Bush.
McCain suffered sharp attacks from Bush supporters in the 2000 race, and his disdain for the tactics was no secret. But Huffington's revelation, if true, would debunk the Arizona senator's longtime stance as the loyal Republican who closed ranks behind Bush.
McCain advisor Mark Salter rejected Huffington's assertion as "totally false."
"Arianna has a new book to promote," Salter said Tuesday. "Whatever her cause celebre of the moment is -- and it's always subject to further revisions with her -- she will say anything to promote it and make anything up."
Reached by phone in Miami, Huffington stood by her story. She said she had admired McCain but had gradually became disillusioned, persuaded that he had forsaken his maverick, truth-telling ways.
"I felt the media is so enamored with McCain and they are giving him a pass on one thing after another," Huffington said. "I think there is a disconnect in the country . . . and I felt it was time for me to tell what I knew."
Huffington said she was at a dinner party held by a Hollywood celebrity days before Bush's Jan. 20, 2001, swearing in when McCain and his wife, Cindy, confided that they had not voted for Bush. (Cindy said she had cast a write-in vote for her husband; McCain did not specify how he had marked his ballot, Huffington said.)
The McCains had just completed a bruising primary race; it included false charges that Cindy McCain was a drug addict (she had been addicted to Percocet and Vicodin after two back operations) and that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child.
Another woman who attended the 2001 dinner said Tuesday that Cindy McCain had told her she could not bring herself to vote for Bush. The source said she did not want to be identified, so as not to alienate the McCains.
Nearly 1,200 posts on the Huffington Post by early Tuesday evening ran the gamut. One person remarked, "You are one of the few with the courage to speak out with the truth these days." Another wrote, "If you had released this revelation separate from your new book, I would be impressed."
Times staff writer Maeve Reston in Winston-Salem, N.C., contributed to this report.