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McCain Coming West With Bush

The Arizonan's planned appearances today with his onetime GOP rival may end Democrats' thoughts of a 'unity' ticket with Kerry.

June 18, 2004|Edwin Chen | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. John McCain is scheduled to campaign today with President Bush in Washington state and Nevada -- appearances likely to finally squelch speculation that he might run as the vice presidential candidate on a Democratic ticket headed by Sen. John F. Kerry.

The prospect of a Kerry-McCain "unity" ticket has intrigued some Democrats -- inspired in part by the Arizona Republican's appeal to independents and in part by the frosty relations between McCain and Bush.

But Mark Salter, McCain's chief of staff, said few people should be surprised that McCain would publicly promote Bush's reelection in two of the states being closely contested in this year's presidential race.

"If people would ever take McCain's statements seriously, they would find numerous stories in which John said that he's not going to be vice president in John Kerry' s campaign," Salter said. "He fully expects to campaign for Bush's reelection."

Indeed, McCain did just that Jan. 26, when he campaigned for Bush in New Hampshire, a state in which McCain trounced the then-Texas governor in their fight for the 2000 GOP presidential nomination. Bush easily won most of the contests that followed that year, leaving McCain and some of his aides bitter over what they viewed as unduly negative attacks on him by the Bush campaign.

McCain helped spark talk of a potential "unity" ticket with Kerry by briefly mentioning the possibility in an interview in March. He and his staff quickly sought to discount his comment as little more than a joke, noting that McCain's views on a range of issues are more in line with Bush than Kerry.

But McCain's name continued to crop up in speculation about Kerry's running mate. And last week, an associate close to McCain said Kerry had discussed the prospect with his Senate colleague at least seven times.

The associate, who declined to be named, said McCain repeatedly said he was not interested.

Kerry and McCain, both Vietnam combat veterans, have become good friends during their Senate careers.

Salter, the McCain aide, said McCain's appearances today with Bush stemmed from a conversation earlier this spring between Karl Rove, the president's chief political strategist, and John Weaver, a longtime McCain political operative who after the 2000 primary campaign changed his political affiliation to the Democratic Party.

McCain is scheduled to appear with Bush at Ft. Lewis, Wash., and then fly with the president aboard Air Force One to Reno, where he is to introduce Bush at a campaign rally.

Bush opened his Western swing Thursday night by headlining a fundraiser in Spokane, Wash., for Rep. George R. Nethercutt Jr. -- the Republican trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. Bush's appearance earned an estimated $750,000 for Nethercutt.

In April, Bush stopped attending fundraising events for his own reelection, but on Thursday his campaign sought more money through an e-mail signed by the president.

"The campaign is in high gear. A tough opponent is running against me; we cannot take him lightly," Bush wrote.

Campaign officials, who have announced a halt to TV ads for a few days later this month, said Thursday that the note did not indicate a shortage of funds.

A Bush aide said the campaign would report today that it has $63.6 million in the bank.

"We are in a strong financial position," said campaign spokesman Scott Stanzel. The pause in advertising is "based on a strategic analysis of when people are paying attention and when they're focused on other things."

Times staff writer Peter Wallsten contributed to this report.

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