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The John McCain-Mitt Romney bond warms on the trail

July 19, 2008 |  7:28 am

While everyone was paying attention to John McCain's support of GM's electric car in Detroit and then, later, his jokes on late-night TV with Conan O'Brien, the Arizona Republican had a fundraiser in the Motor City.

It was a good fundraising crowd, providing a reported onThe Republican presidential nominee to be Arizona Senator John McCain speaks while his onetime rival and now ardent supporter former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney listens. Will they be on the same ticket?e million reasons why McCain spent the night in the Detroit area just to have lunch. But a couple other intriguing things went largely unnoticed there yesterday.

Sitting at the same table with McCain were Ed Levy Jr. and John Rakolta Jr., both of whom were major fundraisers for George W. Bush in 2004 and both of whom are big supporters of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Also at the McCain table: Mitt's brother, Scott, a  Michigan lawyer.

As the former governor had urged, the Romney financial team turned out in force to help the man who defeated their man.

For the second time in recent days McCain went out of his....

...way to lavish warm praise on both the absent Mitt Romney and his wife of 38 years, Ann.

It's part of a noticeable warming of the relationship between the tall, 61-year-old telegenic multimillionaire who rescued the Olympics and easily talks economics, and the 71-year-old political maverick who expresses affection through rough teasing.

The two had some tough things to say about each other's plans during GOP primary debates. But a friendship reportedly started when McCain had the Romneys to his Arizona home last spring.

Since then, Romney has been extremely active in urging his national network of financial supporters to back McCain, especially through generous donations to the Republican National Committee's Victory Fund, which has kept the GOP nominee-to-be within a few million dollars of the Barack Obama money machine.

This week, as The Ticket reported here, Romney decided to turn the $45 million in personal loans to his own losing campaign into contributions, basically to eat the loss himself, which frees up even more Romney donors to support McCain.

Romney has also been an indefatigable surrogate media speaker for McCain since, quietly but consistently making the cable channel rounds day after day to tout the man he once strongly criticized.

And McCain has taken to saying, only half-joking, that Romney has been a better speaker for him than the ex-governor was for himself.

Although McCain has previously played down the importance of geography in a VP choice, Romney would give the GOP ticket a strong chance of carrying Michigan, an important swing state where Romney's father, George, was governor. Mitt Romney was victorious there in this year's Republican primary over McCain, who'd won the state over Bush in 2000.

Even if McCain goes on to pick someone else as his running mate, Romney's dutiful, well-noted slogging for the party's winner after his own defeat will help bolster his standing within a GOP party that traditionally awards its presidential nominations to the next in line.

With both Bush and Dick Cheney leaving office, a McCain loss in November would leave Romney in good position to lead the party's rebuilding for the crucial 2010 midterms and to become the Republican heir apparent in 2012.

--Andrew Malcolm

Photo credit: Associated Press