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Congressman Apologizes for Religion-Based Election Appeal

September 23, 1986 GMT

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) _ Republican Rep. Bill Cobey says he’s sorry about his fund-raising letter suggesting his election opponent wouldn’t ″take a strong stand for the principles outlined in the word of God.″

Cobey, referred to in his letter as ″an ambassador for Christ,″ said at a news conference on Monday, ″I don’t think there is anything wrong with sending a letter to Christians or Jewish people or Realtors or businessmen.″

″But obviously I would have wanted to do a much better job of editing that letter because I would not want anybody to read into a letter that I was questioning somebody’s faith.″

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Cobey, a freshman congressman, had earlier apologized to Democratic opponent David Price by telephone for the letter, which Cobey’s campaign manager said was sent to 2,500 ″identified Christians″ in the district.

The letter requested donations and votes ″so our voice will not be silenced and then replaced by someone who is not willing to take a strong stand for the principles outlined in the word of God.″

Cobey’s campaign manager, John A. King, said the letter was written by an ″outside consultant.″ He acknowledged, however, that Cobey had read and signed the letter after suggesting some wording changes.

Price, a Duke University political science professor and former state Democratic chairman, denounced the letter as an attempt to inject religion into the campaign.

″I think it is a sad day when candidates feel they need to question the validity of one another’s religious beliefs and convictions,″ Price said Monday.

Cobey is an outspoken evangelical Christian and member of the Chapel Hill Bible Church. Price, a graduate of Yale Divinity School, attends another Baptist church in Chapel Hill.

The Cobey letter drew a storm of protest from Price supporters, including the pastor of his church, the Rev. Robert Seymour. Seymour said in a letter to The News and Observer of Raleigh that ″it is unfortunate that Cobey has chosen to cast aspersions on Price’s religion as if he alone has access to the truth.″

Another critic was Marse Grant, former editor of the Biblical Recorder, the newspaper of the Baptist State Convention.

Grant, in a letter to The News and Observer, said the Cobey letter might backfire and ″be the difference in the election since our district isn’t overly blessed with fundamentalists, thank goodness.″

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Last month’s primary defeat of Republican Rep. Mark Siljander in Michigan has been widely laid to negative reaction to his radio plea for ministers to pray for his re-election ″to break the back of Satan.″

However, Cobey told reporters he did not think his letter would have a major impact on his campaign. ″People make mistakes; they need to acknowledge those mistakes, apologize for them,″ he said. ″That’s all I can do and I think people understand that.