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Kerry-McCain ticket touted as way to unite US

WASHINGTON -- Senator Joseph R. Biden, a senior Democrat, yesterday urged Republican Senator John McCain to run for vice president with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Senator John F. Kerry, in order to heal the ''vicious rift" dividing America.

McCain, of Arizona, ''categorically" ruled out standing with Kerry, but Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he had no second choice.

''I'm sticking with McCain," Biden said.

''I think John McCain would be a great candidate for vice president," Biden, from Delaware, said on NBC's ''Meet the Press," where the two senators appeared together to take questions on Iraq and other subjects.

''Do I think it's going to happen? No," he said. ''But I think it is a reflection of the desire of this country and the desire of people in both parties to want to see this God-awful, vicious rift that exists in the nation healed, and John and John could go a long way to heal in that rift."

McCain, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee and in line to take over the Senate Armed Services panel in two years, endorsed Biden's call for bridging the political gap between Democrats and Republicans.

''There's too much partisanship in America, and there's too much partisanship in the Senate," he said. ''And we're not doing our job as our constituents expect us to do."

''I will always take anyone's phone calls," McCain said of any call he might get from Kerry, a fellow decorated Vietnam War veteran. ''But I will not, I categorically will not do it."

Kerry said Wednesday that McCain would be his first choice to replace Donald H. Rumsfeld, President Bush's secretary of defense. Rumsfeld is now wrestling with the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.

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