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McCain Puts in a Few Good Words for Ex-Rival Bush


MANCHESTER, N.H. — The plan was for George W. Bush to return Friday morning to New Hampshire, where John McCain clobbered him in the Republican presidential primary--but this time with the maverick senator, the magnet for independent voters, at his side.

Just one problem: McCain was a no-show.

"I know some of you might be here to see him, but he ate some rotten crawfish in Mississippi last night, and he's not feeling very well," Bush told hundreds of supporters at St. Anselm College here.

The plan worked better in the afternoon. After seeing his doctor in Washington, McCain caught up with Bush in Bangor, Maine, where he greeted thousands of cheering supporters in an airplane hangar.

McCain, the former Vietnam War prisoner, told the crowd that Bush was "prepared to restore the morale, the respect, the dignity and the lifestyle of the men and women in the military. I say to our men and women in the military, help is on the way."

McCain alluded to his ultimate defeat by Bush and their touchy relationship, jocularly quoting Green Bay Packers' coach Vince Lombardi as saying, "Show me a good loser, and I'll show you a loser."

"The campaign that Gov. Bush and I waged was good for us, it was good for America, and I believe that I can best help Gov. Bush in this campaign by telling the American people of my firm commitment and belief that the country will be in very good hands with the next president of the United States, Gov. George W. Bush," McCain said.

Bush responded to McCain in the same bury-the-bygones spirit.

"I didn't particularly like it when he beat me in New Hampshire," he said. "But I'm a better candidate for having tough competition in the primary. This good man put me through my paces. . . . Should I become fortunate enough to become the president, one of the reasons why is because we had a good spirited contest."

McCain's lasting popularity was evident in New Hampshire earlier in the day. Even in absence, McCain dominated Bush's appearance at the same college where he conceded defeat to his rival in the Feb. 1 primary. (McCain upset Bush, the presumed front-runner, by a gaping 49%-30% margin.) On Friday, Bush took care to tout a series of proposals championed by McCain.

"If John were here, I would thank him for introducing legislation that I would sign," Bush said. "It would prevent the Congress from shutting down government, prevent the executive branch from shutting down government. We ought to have a nonshutdown provision."

Bush also praised proposals to require Congress to enact a two-year budget (he called it "a biennium budget") and form a bipartisan commission to eliminate wasteful government spending.

Given the rocky relationship between the two men, the change in plans at first raised eyebrows. But McCain aides said the Arizona senator got sick on catfish, shrimp "and other local favorites" at a fund-raiser for GOP congressional candidate Dunn Lampton on Thursday night in Laurel, Miss.

"He woke up this morning and didn't feel well at all," said McCain spokesman Todd Harris.

McCain has been a spare presence in the Bush effort. The rally in Maine was their first joint campaign appearance in 10 weeks, since a train trip in California. While the senator has taped about 80 television and radio ads for lower-office candidates this year, he has made no ads for Bush. Nor has he been asked, according to his spokesman.

That did not stop the Texas governor from using McCain's image Friday. At the college event in New Hampshire, Bush told the crowd that McCain believes "what's best for America is to change the tone in Washington, D.C., by having a new leader up there."

As Bush campaigned in New Hampshire, Democratic rival Al Gore's forces tweaked him with a new TV ad that noted McCain's past criticism of the Texas governor's Social Security plan. Bush's promises are "anything but straight talk," says an announcer in the 30-second ad, echoing McCain's campaign slogan.

Bush's running mate, Dick Cheney, campaigned Friday in Minnesota, where he was greeted with a Minneapolis Star Tribune poll showing that the Texas governor has pulled even with Gore. After the Democratic convention, Gore held a 10-point lead in Minnesota.

Speaking to about 100 workers at the IntraNet Solutions computer firm in Eden Prairie, Cheney welcomed the news, then cracked: "I immediately called headquarters and said, 'Check Minnesota for our column. We personally delivered the state.' "

Cheney also modified his standard speech by linking the campaign's positions on Social Security, Medicare and tax reform to the "new economy" fueled by high-tech firms such as IntraNet, which designs and operates Web sites for businesses.

"The approach that Vice President Gore is advocating is very much one of the old school, in terms of how government functions and works, and is really in some respects diametrically opposed to the underlying principles of the world's new economy," Cheney said.


Times political writer Cathleen Decker and staff writer Jeff Leeds contributed to this story.

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