SOUTH PORTLAND – Sen. John McCain on Sunday lamented the nation’s bitter political climate and suggested that students at the New School in New York take a courtesy lesson from those at Liberty University.

McCain, who appeared at a fundraiser for Republican gubernatorial hopeful David Emery, told reporters he was saddened by the reception he received last week from hecklers during his commencement speech at the New School.

The Arizona senator said he has spoken at schools throughout the country but never before found himself in a situation where it became difficult for him to get his message across.

“I’ve got to say that maybe the students at the New School could learn a lesson in courtesy from the students at Liberty University,” he said.

McCain had delivered similar speeches last week at the New School, a historically liberal university, and Liberty, a Christian conservative bastion in Virginia founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

McCain said he was particularly disappointed to hear members of the New School audience call its president, former Medal of Honor winner Bob Kerrey, a war criminal. “And when I mentioned a friend of mine who had died, people laughed,” McCain added.

“I was saddened that these young people live in such a dull world that they don’t want to hear the views of someone who disagrees with them,” he said.

McCain said he was appearing on Emery’s behalf because of their longtime friendship that dates back to Emery’s stint as deputy director of the arms control agency during the Reagan administration. A former Maine congressman, Emery later headed McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign in the state.

McCain acknowledged to reporters that he and Emery don’t see eye-to-eye on public financing of political campaigns. Emery is the only one of the three Republican gubernatorial candidates to reject public financing, while McCain supports the Arizona Clean Election law similar to Maine’s.

But McCain quickly added that he and Emery agree on many other issues, including the need for fiscal restraint in government and support for education.

An Emery spokeswoman estimated that about 200 people attended the fundraiser, but the amount raised was not immediately available. The campaign had asked donors to pay $100 for general admission to the fundraiser and $500 to attend a private reception with McCain.

A campaign finance report last month showed that Emery’s rivals in the June 13 primary, Peter Mills and Chandler Woodcock, had far greater cash reserves, but Emery expressed confidence that his fundraising was on track and that “we will have the money we need when we need it.”

McCain, seen as a leading contender for his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, said he will announce next year whether he will enter the race. After his Maine stop, he was headed to New Hampshire to speak in Manchester at a breakfast for Republican women.

The senator said Republicans face a tough campaign in 2006 but can win voter support by restraining spending, passing a comprehensive spending bill and showing progress in Iraq.

He cited the need for Congress to “move forward with a legislative agenda so that we can show the American people that we govern.”