STOCKTON -- Arizona Sen. John McCain spent most of Thursday in Northern California, where the presumptive Republican presidential nominee touched on the emotional topics of religion and immigration.
McCain rejected endorsements from two influential but controversial televangelists, saying there is no place for their incendiary criticisms of other faiths.
McCain rejected the months-old endorsement of Texas preacher John Hagee after an audio recording surfaced in which the preacher said God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land.
"Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Reverend Hagee's endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well," he said.
McCain, appearing at a rally inside the airport hangar of wealthy Stockton developer Alex Spanos, called Hagee's comment on Hitler "crazy and unacceptable."
He later repudiated the support of Rod Parsley, an Ohio preacher who has sharply criticized Islam and called the religion inherently violent.
McCain actively courted Hagee, leader of a San Antonio megachurch who has called the Roman Catholic Church "the great whore" and a "false cult system." He also has linked Hitler to the Catholic church, suggesting it helped shape his anti-Semitism. And Hagee said Hurricane Katrina was God's retribution for homosexual sin.
Some critics compared McCain's situation with Hagee to the controversy Democrat Sen. Barack Obama faced over the views of his longtime and now former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. McCain tried Thursday to draw a distinction.
"I've never been to Pastor Hagee's church or Pastor Parsley's church," McCain said. "I didn't attend their church for 20 years. I'm not a member of their church."
Obama, campaigning in Florida, said that in national politics it's easy to find people who have said or done offensive things.
"John McCain has to deal with Hagee, who said something that is mind-boggling. I don't attribute those statements to John McCain. Nobody thinks McCain believes that stuff," Obama said.
Earlier Thursday, McCain joined Gov. Schwarzenegger at Finelite, a Union City lighting manufacturing plant, in calling for an immigration plan including visas to bring employees to Silicon Valley and the state's agricultural fields.
McCain's immigration pitch at the global competitiveness roundtable of California technology executives stood out from his more cautious tone earlier in the primary season.
Asked how he'd grant more visas for skilled technology workers, McCain advocated the comprehensive immigration legislation he had backed with Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
While calling Thursday for protecting America's borders and national security and punishing employers who hire illegal immigrants, McCain advocated a humane approach that treats illegal workers as "God's children." He said they should be allowed to seek legal status in a "humane and comprehensive fashion" through a program "they can count on and trust."
Schwarzenegger echoed McCain's remarks, saying, "We need to change the system. All this is part of a comprehensive immigration reform. You can't piecemeal this thing."
Also Thursday, McCain issued an angry response after being assailed by Obama for failing to back a measure to increase financial support for veterans who pursue a college degree.
Saying the Senate had a "moral duty to pass the bill," Obama said, "I can't believe why he believes it is too generous to our veterans."
Peter Hecht of The Sacramento Bee, Margaret Talev of the McClatchy Washington Bureau and The Associated Press contributed to this report.