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McCain said to reject Kerry on VP overture

WASHINGTON -- John F. Kerry has asked Senator John McCain to consider becoming his running mate, but the Republican from Arizona rejected the overtures to join the Democratic presidential ticket and forge a bipartisan alliance against President Bush, the Associated Press has learned.

The Massachusetts Democrat asked McCain as recently as late last month to consider running with him, but the Arizona senator said he's not interested, said a Democratic official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. A second official familiar with the conversations confirmed the account and said the Arizona senator made it clear he won't change his mind.

Both officials said Kerry stopped short of offering McCain the job, sparing himself an outright rejection that would make his eventual running mate look like a second choice.

''Senator McCain categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by anyone," said McCain's chief of staff, Mark Salter, who would not confirm the officials' account.

Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter declined to comment.

The development may lay to rest speculation that Kerry and McCain would reach across Washington's deep partisan divide and create an unprecedented political partnership.

The notion has been rife with obstacles from the start: McCain is a strong-willed conservative and Kerry a liberal senator from Massachusetts who would be loath to surrender presidential responsibilities that McCain might demand.

But the fellow senators and Vietnam veterans are friends, their bond sealed as they worked together to help President Clinton formalize relations with Vietnam. Clinton, who did not serve in the war, needed the political help from Kerry, a decorated Navy veteran, and McCain, a former prisoner of war.

McCain's cool relationship with Bush fostered Democrats' hopes, but the senator has repeatedly declared his allegiance to the GOP. McCain lost a bitter campaign against Bush for the 2000 Republican nomination, leaving wounds that may never heal.

McCain has said publicly he had no intention of serving as vice president, at times leaving the door open enough to create a constant buzz. In private, McCain has ruled out serving under Kerry, despite his respect for the Democrat, advisers said yesterday.

Recently, officials close to Kerry have repeatedly reached out to McCain's advisers to persuade the senator to join the ticket.

McCain's shoot-from-the-hip style has made him one of the nation's most popular politicians, a champion of campaign finance reform and critic of pork-barrel spending, two issues that antagonized fellow lawmakers. They accuse him of being a showboat, but a politically potent one.

A recent CBS News poll found that a hypothetical Kerry-McCain ticket had a 14-point advantage over Bush-Cheney among registered voters, 53 percent to 39 percent, much better than any potential Democratic running mates fared in the latest AP poll.

Kerry is giving serious consideration to Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri and retired Army General Wesley K. Clark of Arkansas -- all former primary rivals -- as well as Governor Tom Vilsack of Iowa, among others. Even with Edwards or Gephardt as Kerry's pick, the Democratic ticket is tied with Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney among registered voters in the AP poll.

In a head-to-head matchup with Bush, Kerry is tied, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.

When Cheney's political status was shaky early this year, McCain's name emerged as a potential replacement, and officials close to the senator never ruled out the remote prospect of joining the GOP ticket. Bush has since said Cheney will remain on the ticket.

The AP-Ipsos poll suggested 51 percent of registered voters believe Bush should keep Cheney on his ticket; 43 percent want someone else.

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