The Washington Times - May 30, 2008, 01:06PM

One of the curious things about the 2004 election was it was almost as much about John McCain as it was about George Bush and John Kerry. The two official candidates spent plenty of time trying to attach to themselves McCain’s seal of approval.

It went so far that Kerry even flirted with the idea of having McCain be his running mate. And McCain did plenty of legwork for Kerry, particularly in trying to shoot down some of the roughest attacks from the Swift Boat veterans. But in the end, Bush won out, getting the now-famous hug from McCain when the two campaigned together.

Now Kerry is giving payback.

He held a press conference call today to blast McCain for his recent fundraising appeal, which uses the Iraq war and attacks Barack Obama for not having visited U.S. troops in Iraq for two years.

“Sadly it’s straight out of the Bush playbook that John McCain would propose a political joint photo-opportunity in Iraq, and then use it as a prop to raise a few campaign dollars even as he misstates the number of troops serving on the ground. If there’s one thing the last seven years have proven, it’s that photo-opportunities on aircraft carriers or strolls in a Baghdad market do nothing to advance the debate in Iraq or to create a policy worthy of our soldiers’ sacrifice,” Kerry said, calling it “deeply disappointing” that McCain used a picture of Gen. David Petraeus in uniform in his appeal.

The McCain campaign responded by calling Kerry misinformed about troop levels.

It’s quite a break for two men who could have shared a ticket in 2004, and whose ties go back to their joint efforts to normalize relations with Vietnam.

Stephen Dinan, national political reporter, The Washington Times