Bush's Apology — Too Little, Too Late?

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Time may heal all wounds, but for George W. Bush, time is running out. So on Sunday, with only nine days to go until Super Tuesday, Bush stopped licking the campaign wounds inflicted by his Bob Jones University appearance and apologized to Catholics for not denouncing the school's anti-Catholic stance. It's a belated acknowledgment that the Bush camp grossly miscalculated how poorly the appearance at the South Carolina college would be received by Catholics across the country and how much it would be exploited by the McCain campaign. With the clock ticking, Bush is scurrying to re-group, and is taking a page from McCain's "authenticity" book by admitting that he made a mistake. In a direct appeal to New York Catholics, Bush sent a letter to John Cardinal O'Connor on Friday, writing of his failure to denounce the anti-Catholic rhetoric of school: "It was a missed opportunity, causing needless offense, which I deeply regret."

But it may be a case of too little, too late. "The Bob Jones appearance showed a surprising lack of appreciation for the way that campaigning has changed," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Carney. "You can't narrow-cast a message for a target audience anymore and think that other audiences won't find out about it. The Bush camp thought they could go after Christian conservatives in South Carolina and the rest of the country wouldn't notice. They were wrong."

The incident occurred a full month before next week's Super Tuesday primaries, when 13 states, including delegate-rich — and heavily Catholic — New York and California, will vote. Catholics make up the majority of New York voters and 46 percent of registered Republicans. Last week, Long Island congressman Peter King, who's held in high esteem by the Irish Catholic lobby, defected from Bush to McCain, saying Bush had destroyed his chances of carrying the state in a general election, a view shared by many political analysts. While Catholics make up a smaller voting block among California Republicans, Bush was previously expected to woo a large chunk of moderate Latinos into the GOP fold in the Golden State's general election — a prospect greatly damaged by the incident. In addition to the fact that Bob Jones has described Catholicism as a satanic cult, the school outlaws interracial dating — an issue unlikely to play well in immigrant-heavy New York and California.