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McCain rejects Kerry's VP overture
Updated: 2004-06-12 09:09

Republican Sen. John McCain has personally rejected John Kerry's overtures to join the Democratic presidential ticket and forge a bipartisan alliance against President Bush, The Associated Press has learned.

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., right, meets supporters after leaving the Russell Senate Office Building in Washington on Thursday, June 10, 2004. [AP]
Kerry asked McCain in the last two weeks to consider becoming his running mate, but the Arizona senator said he's not interested, according to a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity because Kerry has insisted that his deliberations be kept private. A second official familiar with the conversations confirmed the account, and said the Arizona senator made it clear he won't change his mind.

Both officials said Kerry stopped short of formally offering McCain the job, sparing himself an outright rejection that would make his eventual running mate look like a second choice.

"Senator McCain categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by anyone," said McCain's chief of staff, Mark Salter, who would not confirm the officials' account.

Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter declined to comment.

The officials said Kerry and McCain talked about the vice presidency on several occasions, with the nominee-in-waiting sketching out a scenario under which McCain could have a significant role over defense and other issues. Despite his respect for Kerry, McCain didn't want to abandon his party and wasn't sure the idea was workable, the officials said. Thus, he told Kerry there would be no need to ask him again to consider the job.

The development may lay to rest speculation that Kerry and McCain would reach across Washington's deep partisan divide and create an unprecedented political partnership.

The notion has been rife with obstacles from the start — McCain is a strong-willed conservative and Kerry a liberal from Massachusetts who would be loath to surrender presidential responsibilities that McCain might demand.

But the fellow senators and Vietnam veterans are friends, their bond sealed as they worked together to help President Clinton normalize relations with Vietnam. Clinton, who avoided service in the war, needed the political cover from Kerry, a decorated Navy veteran, and McCain, a former prisoner of war.

Democrats have welcomed speculation about McCain, believing that the courtship alone might help Kerry position himself as a moderate.

McCain's cool relationship with Bush fostered Democrats' hopes, but the senator has repeatedly declared his allegiance to the GOP. McCain lost a bitter campaign against Bush for the 2000 Republican nomination, leaving wounds that may never heal.

McCain has said publicly he had no intention of serving as vice president, at times leaving the door open just enough to create a constant buzz. But in private, McCain has long ruled out serving under Kerry, despite his respect for the Democrat, advisers said Friday.

In recent days, officials close to Kerry have repeatedly reached out to McCain's advisers in hopes of persuading the senator to join the ticket.

A GOP maverick, McCain jumped to Kerry's defense when the White House accused the Democrat of being weak on defense. "This kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful," he said in March, admonishing the White House.

His shoot-from-the-hip style has made McCain one of the nation's most popular politicians, a champion of campaign finance reform and critic of pork-barrel spending — two issues that antagonized his fellow lawmakers. They accuse him of being a showboat, but a politically potent one.

A recent CBS News poll found that a hypothetical Kerry-McCain ticket had a 14-point advantage over Bush-Cheney among registered voters, 53 percent to 39 percent. That's much better than any potential Democratic running mates fared in the latest Associated Press poll.

Kerry is giving serious consideration to Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark of Arkansas — all former primary rivals — as well as Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, among others. Even with Edwards or Gephardt as Kerry's pick, the Democratic ticket manages only a tie with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney among registered voters in the AP poll.

In a head-to-head matchup with Bush alone, Kerry is tied, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

When Cheney's political status was shaky early this year, McCain's name emerged as a potential replacement. Officials close to the senator never ruled out the remote prospect of joining the GOP ticket, but Bush has since said Cheney will remain on the ticket.

The AP-Ipsos poll found that 51 percent of registered voters believe Bush should keep Cheney on his ticket, with 43 percent wanting him to pick somebody else.

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