Image: John McCain with Billy Graham and son Franklin Graham
Lm Otero  /  AP
Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., center, poses for photo with Christian evangelist Billy Graham and his son Franklin Graham at the Graham family mountain top retreat in Montreat , N.C., on Sunday.
updated 6/29/2008 3:28:32 PM ET 2008-06-29T19:28:32

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.

The meeting was McCain's first with Billy Graham, 89, and his son, although McCain's father and the elder Graham were acquainted.

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."

Graham praises McCain
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 prisoner of war. 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.

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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 says meeting isn't political
McCain said last week that he did not consider the meeting with Franklin Graham a political one.

"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. "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."

This month, Barack Obama, McCain's Democratic rival, met with the younger Graham, who was part of a group of some 30 evangelicals with whom Obama was meeting in Chicago.

McCain also was greeted by country singer Ricky Skaggs, who had lunch plans with the father and son and had arrived early to meet McCain.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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