RENO — President Bush and sometime critic Sen. John McCain performed a political two-step Friday, joining for a show of unity before soldiers in Washington state and Republican supporters in Nevada.
McCain, the Arizona Republican and war hero who was courted as a potential running mate by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, effectively rejoined the Republican ranks with the two appearances. Although the two events were different in content and tone, both were designed to showcase McCain's support for Bush in states viewed as up for grabs in this year's presidential race.
At times, the two men appeared chummy. At others, there were signs of the distance between them rooted in their bitter fight for the GOP presidential nomination four years ago and political disagreements since then. Arriving in Reno on Air Force One, McCain told reporters he and Bush have had "differences in policy." But he added: "We've always had a cordial relationship."
Asked later why he was campaigning with the president now, McCain replied, "First time I was asked."
The joint appearances came a week after a McCain associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in recent months Kerry discussed with McCain several times the prospect of being his running mate. The associate said that McCain, who helped fuel speculation about a so-called "unity ticket" by publicly referring to Kerry as a good friend, rejected the Kerry overtures.
In their stop at Ft. Lewis in Washington, Bush and McCain focused their comments on the war in Iraq and motivating the troops. In Reno, they appeared at a raucous political rally.
Bush made a wry reference to the McCain-Kerry relationship.
"Both candidates in this race are honored to be the friend of John McCain," Bush told an enthusiastic crowd at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center. "Only one of us gets his vote. I am proud that it is me."
McCain introduced Bush at Ft. Lewis, home of the Army's 1st Corps. He devoted most of his remarks to lauding the service of the base's soldiers, many of them preparing for their second deployment to Iraq.
"Most Americans don't have your responsibilities, don't share your sacrifices, don't risk what you risk for the sake of this blessed country," McCain said.
When he referred to Bush at the end of his speech, he was effusive in his praise, complimenting the president's "firm resolve" in fighting "a depraved, malevolent force that opposes our every interest and hates every value we hold dear."
"There have been ups and downs, as there are in any war, but like you, he has not wavered in his determination to protect this country and to make the world a better, safer, freer place," McCain said. "You will not yield, nor will he."
Earlier, the two men had briefly hugged on stage.
Bush followed McCain with a 40-minute speech, one in his series on Iraq ahead of the transfer of sovereignty to the interim Iraqi government June 30.
Bush acknowledged difficulties in the effort to create a stable, democratic government in Iraq, but cited the history of rebuilding efforts after World War II as a cause for optimism. He read a quote from a 1946 New York Times article describing postwar Germany as in "an acute stage of economic, political and moral crisis."
Said Bush: "Fortunately, the pessimists did not have their day. Fortunately, our predecessors had great faith in the power of free societies to change society."
Bush reprised the theme during the Nevada rally: "I like to remind people that right after World War II, there was a lot of doubters and cynics and pessimists as to whether or not a free Germany could arise, or a free Japan could arise."
Referring to last week's G-8 summit of the leading industrialized nations -- including Japan and Germany -- Bush said he looked around the table and, "I was thankful that my predecessors didn't fall prey to pessimism and cynicism. I was thankful that my predecessors had faith in the desire of people from all walks of life to be free."
Bush extolled his administration's efforts to help clean up Lake Tahoe, but did not mention his support for storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Kerry opposes the project, and Democrats contend that could help him carry Nevada.