- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2000

PITTSBURGH Arizona Sen. John McCain yesterday endorsed his presidential rival, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, after a private meeting in which he asked not to be considered as Mr. Bush's running mate.
Asked pointedly why he didn't utter the word "endorse" in his opening statement at a post-meeting news conference, Mr. McCain smiled and said:
"I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush. I endorse Governor Bush."
Mr. McCain changed his voice each time he said the phrase, drawing laughter from reporters and supporters.
Mr. Bush then leaned into the microphone and, also drawing laughter, said: "By the way, I enthusiastically accept."
But the post-meeting press conference wasn't all jocularity. When a reporter asked Mr. McCain if he felt as if he were taking his medicine, Mr. McCain replied, "I think your 'taking the medicine now' is probably a good description."
Mr. Bush asked for the meeting, hoping to unite the party after a bitter primary for his contest against Vice President Al Gore. Mr. McCain arrived at the hotel in downtown Pittsburgh punctually and the two men talked alone for 90 minutes while aides paced in separate rooms nearby.
When they emerged from what Mr. McCain called a "useful" discussion, the senator said he intends to stump for his former foe.
"It's important we restore integrity and honor to the White House," Mr. McCain said. "I'm convinced that Governor Bush can do that more than adequately. I look forward to enthusiastically campaigning for Governor Bush."
But it was clear the two men did little to patch over their differences on Mr. McCain's signature campaign issue, regulating political donations.
"I will not give up on the reform agenda," Mr. McCain said with Mr. Bush at his side. "We are not in agreement on every issue that was made clear in the primary."
Mr. McCain ran on a message of banning so-called "soft money" donations to political parties. Mr. Bush, whose campaign raised a record of more than $70 million in the primary, says banning soft money would put Republicans at a disadvantage with Democrats who raise vast sums from labor unions.
Their news conference after the meeting also aggravated a rift. Asked to repudiate comments by Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson, who said the choice of Mr. McCain as vice president would be "dangerous," Mr. Bush stopped short of criticizing Mr. Robertson. He did call Mr. McCain a friend and "a man of good judgment."
A source close to Mr. McCain said the senator was "upset" by Mr. Bush's answer.
"We felt that Governor Bush missed a real opportunity to repudiate Pat Robertson's vicious attacks against Senator McCain," the source said. "He is tacitly endorsing [Mr. Robertson's] comments."
Aides for both men, who normally make themselves available to reporters after media events, slipped away as soon as the news conference ended.
Mr. Bush said he asked for Mr. McCain's advice on a running mate, and Mr. McCain asked not to be considered.
"I take him for his word," Mr. Bush said.
Mr. Bush was the more positive of the two about their discussion. "There's a lot of things we agree on," Mr. Bush said. "I spoke my mind and he spoke his. The good news is we had a pretty frank discussion. I think his endorsement is important because … there's a lot of people who think John is not only a great American, but a person who's got a good, solid agenda for the future."
Mr. Bush also said he hopes Mr. McCain will play a key role at the Republican nominating convention that begins July 31. He said Mr. McCain "made me a better candidate" in their primary fight.
Mr. McCain was Mr. Bush's toughest primary opponent, winning the first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire, as well as Michigan and Arizona. He bowed out after Mr. Bush defeated him decisively on Super Tuesday, March 7.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican and a McCain supporter, acknowledged that Mr. McCain's comments were not overly enthusiastic and defended his performance.
"This bulletin just in it's no fun to finish second in politics," Mr. Hayworth said. "John McCain is a winner. He doesn't like to go through this."
On the question of a running mate for Mr. Bush, Mr. McCain said he talked about Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge, as well as other familiar names Michigan Gov. John Engler, former Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson, Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, a staunch McCain supporter, and Rep. John R. Kasich of Ohio.
"There's a lot of very highly qualified men and women," Mr. McCain said.
Both men said there was no talk at the meeting about the nastier events of their campaign, such as the McCain campaign suggesting that Mr. Bush tolerated anti-Catholic bigotry, or that Bush surrogates accused Mr. McCain, a Vietnam veteran, of abandoning fellow veterans.
"I hold no rancor," Mr. McCain said. "The only way you can approach American politics … is to move forward."
Said Mr. Bush, "We're both people who've been around politics. I was very comfortable and so was John."
Mr. Bush said he and Mr. McCain agree in general on issues such as education, military spending, health care and reforming Social Security. And both agreed that a Republican must be elected to the White House.
Mr. McCain said Mr. Bush is a better candidate than Mr. Gore because "he has the vision, he has the knowledge and the expertise, to carry out the mission of maintaining United States' supremacy, both militarily and economically, in the world."
The event was held in Pennsylvania, a swing state where Mr. Bush holds a slim lead over Mr. Gore in recent polls. Mr. Bush and Mr. McCain credited Mr. Ridge with helping to bring them together.

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