- The Washington Times - Friday, September 12, 2008

NEW YORK | The presidential nominees agreed Thursday to set politics aside in honor of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but the heated campaign surfaced nonetheless.

Republican Sen. John McCain and Democratic Sen. Barack Obama each promised service would be a critical part of their administrations should they win the White House during a “Service Nation” forum at Columbia University.

Mr. McCain defended the suggestion of his running mate - Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin - at the Republican National Convention that Mr. Obama’s community service was not real work compared with her service as mayor, and the moderators asked him about the nasty tenor of the race less than 55 days from the election.

“It’s a tough business,” Mr. McCain told interviewer Judy Woodruff during the forum. “I think the tone of this whole campaign would have been very different if Senator Obama had accepted my request for us to appear in town-hall meetings all over America, the same way Jack Kennedy and Barry Goldwater had agreed to do so.”

Mr. McCain initially requested about 10 joint stops, but negotiations fell apart when Team Obama did not want to do as many, and there are no public plans for them to appear together beyond the three traditionally sanctioned debates.

Mr. McCain repeated his call before exchanging a handshake with Mr. Obama, saying the service forum should be transformed at that moment to a joint appearance.

“Let’s listen to hopes and dreams and aspirations of the American people,” he said.

The remarks came a few hours after the men laid flowers together at ground zero in a rare and friendly side-by-side appearance.

At the forum the men agreed more than disagreed, praising one another’s service to the country and lauding the general work of the peace corps and faith-based groups that have been rebuilding the Gulf Coast since Katrina.

Mr. McCain was asked whether he would put Mr. Obama in his Cabinet for a post should he win Nov. 4. He said yes because “no matter what happens,” service is a cause greater than “partisanship.”

Asked the same question, Mr. Obama grinned widely and joked he’d be willing to cut that deal.

“We’ve got a little work to do before we get to that point,” he added, but went on to call Mr. McCain’s service “legendary.”

He said his rival had inspired “a whole new generation of young people.”

Mr. Obama said had he been president after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “rather than tell everyone to shop,” he would have told Americans they must rise to meet “great challenges,” and that “this is not just going to be a war of a few of us.”

Earlier Thursday, Mr. Obama had lunch with Bill Clinton in Harlem and the former president predicted the Democrat “will win and win handily.”

Mr. Obama chimed in: “There you go. You can take it from the president of the United States. He knows a little something about politics.”

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