- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

SALINAS, Calif. George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain, praising each other for the battle they waged for the Republican presidential nomination, joined forces Thursday to campaign for independent and swing votes in the nation's most populous state.
"Primaries are family squabbles," Mr. Bush said. "He ran a great race, he really did. It was a tough campaign, I am a better candidate as a result of John entering the campaign."
Mr. McCain, for his part, said no bitterness lingers from the fierce battle the two waged during the primaries.
"Primaries are tough. They are not beanbag," Mr. McCain said. "I support Governor Bush and I am grateful to him and I am proud of him. Differences are healthy in our party."
Mr. McCain, smiling as the boisterous rally crowd roared, praised the Texas governor as "a man who will restore dignity and honor to the Oval Office."
The two paired up to make a push for California, the electoral college's richest reward with 54 of the 270 votes needed for victory in November.
"California is clearly in play," Mr. McCain said.
Mr. Bush brought Mr. McCain to California in hopes of wooing the independents who were the backbone of the senator's upstart campaign. Republicans are unwilling to concede the state, despite its recent record of solid Democratic support.
Recent polls show Vice President Al Gore and Mr. Bush virtually tied in California, although those polls were taken amidst the favorable publicity the Republican Party received during its convention. Democrats have subsequently gained favorable publicity with Mr. Gore's nomination of Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut as a vice-presidential candidate, and they expect a lift in the polls from their upcoming convention in Los Angeles.
Still, Republicans remain hopeful about this state.
"We have got a very good chance in California," Mr. Bush said. "At one point, there was some wishful thinking on my opponent's part that this state would be written off I don't intend to write it off, I am going to be here a lot."
Mr. McCain suggested at a joint news conference that there were no guarantees. "Independents are independents because they are independent." But, he said, their importance cannot be underestimated. In California, "the independent vote determines the outcome of elections," he said.
"What I can do is support him and ask independents to look at him. I hope I have the credibility with them so they will examine his campaign."
In particular, the Bush campaign is focusing on counties where the combined Bush and McCain vote in the primary was larger than the combined vote of Mr. Gore and his Democratic rival Bill Bradley.
The sight of the two brought out huge crowds as they made their way along railroad tracks, speaking from the rear platform of the train during stops on Thursday's 165-mile leg of the trip. Both Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain lavished praise on one another.
Mr. McCain, who previously had derided Mr. Bush as a tool of special interests and as insincere when he claimed to be a reformer, said he "supports" the nominee and is "proud to be part of this crusade."
"Governor Bush and I had some disagreements in the primary that's what primaries are all about," he told reporters during a brief joint press conference. "If everybody agreed about every issue, primaries wouldn't be very interesting. We have committed to move forward."
The two men disagreed sharply on a series of issues through the early contests, particularly splitting over Mr. McCain's campaign-finance proposals, which many Republicans including Mr. Bush see as a violation of the First Amendment. They disagreed over Mr. Bush's proposed $1.5 trillion tax cut, which Mr. McCain said was far too large. Mr. McCain openly attacked Christian conservative leaders, who backed Mr. Bush, as "forces of evil."
Mr. McCain has since endorsed Mr. Bush repeatedly, including in an effusive speech at the Republican National Convention last week, and he has largely dropped the themes that distinguished his presidential bid and caused his split with Mr. Bush.
Mr. McCain denied, however, that he has abandoned his principles for the sake of political expediency. Mr. McCain has been trying to mend fences with conservative Republicans ever since the primaries and has been widely mentioned as a Cabinet secretary in a Bush administration.
"We share the core principles of the Republican Party," Mr. McCain said. "We have differences, but differences are healthy in our party."
Specifically, he said, he still disagrees with the size of Mr. Bush's tax cut, but he agrees with the notion of giving tax relief in an era of vast budget surpluses.
The two also will campaign in Washington, Oregon and Arizona in the next couple of days.
"People said Republicans don't have a chance," Mr. Bush said. "Not only do we have a chance, we're going to do well. Very helpful to have John by my side."
The two men will campaign in Arizona on Saturday and Mr. Bush will cement the alliance by staying at Mr. McCain's ranch near Sedona that night.
There have been reports that Mr. McCain has committed to a 10-day swing with Mr. Bush later this fall, but the Bush campaign said Thursday that those reports are premature. Mr. McCain has agreed to campaign for Republican House and Senate candidates and more than 100 have asked him to do so.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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