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John McCain 'proud' if Bush campaigns with him

February 14, 2008 | 11:57 pm

The Republican Party's new presumptive nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, said tonight he would be "proud" if President Bush campaigns with him in the general election.

On "The Larry King Show" a short time ago, McCain, once a bitter enemy of Bush's, said: "I would be proud to have President Bush campaign with me and support me in any way that he feels is appropriate. And I would appreciate it."

King, seemingly surprised, asked, "Despite his low popularity?"

The veteran senator replied, "I'm not the kind of person that looks at people's popularity. I have a very good relationship with this president. I'm glad he won in 2000 and 2004.

"We have had some disagreements, but we share many, many values and....

principles of our Republican Party. And I'm not going to -- it's just not me to say that somehow because someone may not be popular, that they shouldn't campaign with me. In fact, I welcome it."

In the 1999-2000 campaign, McCain slyly challenged Bush in New Hampshire before and after the Texas governor won Iowa. As he did again this campaign, McCain worked the Granite State very hard all summer and fall, holding endless town hall meetings.

The Bush campaign was worried going into that New Hampshire primary. They'd had danger signals all fall and strategist Karl Rove had developed a backup strategy for the following South Carolina primary just in case.

At breakfast on election day, Rove knew Bush would lose by 15 points. The final total was actually 19 points. A serious shellacking that seemed to give McCain's Straight Talk Express some momentum. But Bush stopped him three weeks later in South Carolina.

McCain ultimately endorsed the party's victor, as Gov. Mitt Romney endorsed McCain today. McCain campaigned for Bush and, according to the party's tradition of primogeniture, got in the front of the line for 2008.

McCain started there a year ago, then plunged into political and financial oblivion before fighting back to win in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida.

In a "Fox News Sunday" interview last weekend, Bush declined to endorse any Republican but called McCain "a true conservative" and said he'd help the Arizonan if he wanted it, a subtle go-ahead signal to Bush's allies. The president's brother, Jeb, and Rove have now contributed to McCain's campaign.

King asked McCain tonight about Romney's endorsement today. McCain said he was surprised it came so quickly after Romney dropped out, but he appreciated it.

And King asked about McCain's closest remaining challenger, Mike Huckabee, who's vowed to continue until someone gets the necessary 1,191 delegates, even though mathematically it's virtually impossible for him to do so now.

McCain said he respects Huckabee, that the former Arkansas governor has a winning way about him, and added, "If he wants to stay in this campaign, stay in."

-- Andrew Malcolm