Image: John McCain, Mitt Romney
Gerald Herbert  /  AP file
Mitt Romney announces his support for Sen. John McCain in this February file photo taken in Boston. A social weekend  McCain held for the Romneys and other supporters at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz., this spring was seen as an important turning point in their relationship.
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updated 7/18/2008 9:16:51 PM ET 2008-07-19T01:16:51

It was not so long ago that the idea that Senator John McCain would even entertain tapping Mitt Romney, his bitterest primary rival, as his running mate would have seemed preposterous. On the strange-bedfellows scale, it would have ranked somewhere between Tom teaming up with Jerry and the Red Sox joining forces with the Yankees.

The McCain-Romney feud was the juiciest of the Republican primary season, featuring two men who generally just did not seem to like each other. Mr. Romney said Mr. McCain would set a “liberal Democrat course as president.” He said that one of Mr. McCain’s proudest accomplishments, his campaign finance bill, took “a whack at the First Amendment,” and told voters grappling with money woes that Mr. McCain “has said time and again that he doesn’t understand the economy.” Mr. McCain, for his part, witheringly cast Mr. Romney as a flip-flopper.

But that was then.

These days Mr. Romney, the telegenic former Massachusetts governor, is serving as a wingman extraordinaire for Mr. McCain. He is ubiquitous on cable television, where he talked up Mr. McCain’s economic proposals on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC on Wednesday alone. He has dutifully raised money for Mr. McCain. And Mr. Romney has developed a reputation as a campaign surrogate who can talk fluently about the economy, and who has roots in Michigan, an important swing state. Now Mr. Romney is attracting perhaps more buzz than anyone else as a potential running mate for the man he once derided.

And if the initial rapprochement between the two men seemed a tad forced after Mr. Romney pulled out of the race last winter, something approaching warmth seems to be entering their relationship now. At a fund-raiser in Albuquerque this week, Mr. McCain even aimed a gentle jibe at Mr. Romney — raising eyebrows among veteran McCain watchers, who know that his irreverent teasing and sarcasm are often his way of showing affection.

“Mitt and Ann Romney and Cindy and I have become good friends, and I’m appreciative every time I see Mitt on television on my behalf,” Mr. McCain told donors at the fund-raiser, according to a pool report of the event. “He does a better job for me than he did for himself, as a matter of fact.”

The McCain campaign has been notably tight-lipped about its vice-presidential selection process. But when asked about it, Mr. McCain has tended to say that he does not believe geographical considerations matter much in modern politics — which might make the Michigan argument weaker — and that he is most concerned about finding someone who shares his beliefs and who could take over as president if necessary.

Of course in politics the pragmatic often trumps the personal, and rivals have often wound up sharing tickets, from Lyndon B. Johnson signing on as John F. Kennedy’s running mate to George Bush signing on as Ronald Reagan’s (after memorably excoriating Mr. Reagan’s fiscal proposals as “voodoo economics”). But that was all in the pre-YouTube era, when political jabs had a much shorter shelf life.

But for Mr. McCain, who likes to surround himself with friends on the campaign trail, the personal is known to be an important factor. To that end, a social weekend Mr. McCain held for the Romneys and other supporters at his ranch near Sedona, Ariz., this spring was seen as an important turning point in their relationship, and a moment when the McCains and the Romneys seemed to decide that they could get along after all.

The former rivals spoke the lingua franca of men who are unsure of what to talk about — sports — and also talked about their families, politics and some of the funniest moments of the campaign, including the many gustatory delights of the Iowa State Fair, according to several people who were either at the gathering or were later told about it who were granted anonymity to describe the private get-together.

At one point, when Mr. McCain offered drinks to his guests, he went out of his way to offer Mr. Romney, a Mormon who does not drink alcohol, a coffee (apparently not realizing that Mormons eschew caffeine as well), said an aide who was told of the encounter later. But the aide said that the gesture seemed appreciated nonetheless.

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Mr. McCain — who eagerly tallies the varieties of birds on his property, and likes to show visitors a hawk’s nest — also talked ornithology with Mr. Romney. Mr. Romney later joked at a fund-raiser for Mr. McCain that Mr. McCain had identified 57 varieties of birds on his ranch, but that after a weekend of grilling it was down to 47.

“He knows how to identify birds, how to shoot birds, and how to cook birds!” Mr. Romney said at the fund-raiser last month in Boston, according to a pool report.

Recently, on the back of the McCain campaign bus — a similar setting to the bus where Mr. McCain and his aides once watched, with apparent relish, television news footage of a reporter challenging Mr. Romney’s honesty during the South Carolina primary — Mr. McCain said that he and Mr. Romney had truly buried the hatchet.

“You know I’ve seen other primaries,” Mr. McCain said on a ride from West Virginia to Ohio. “And they’ve been much more spirited, and sometimes much rougher, than ours was. There was a couple occasions where we had fairly sharp differences in the primary, but over all — how long did the primary last? A year? A year and a half? We had a respectful campaign. It wasn’t hard to come back together.”

But the primary clashes between the two reflected how Mr. Romney and Mr. McCain often fought bitterly over issues:

But aides to both men say they have worked to overcome any lingering hard feelings. And while Mr. McCain has a reputation for a short temper, he is also known for both seeking and granting forgiveness. After his own bitter, bruising primary fight against George W. Bush in 2000, he became a major supporter of Mr. Bush in 2000 and 2004. “I frequently refer to him has the Great Reconciler,” said Charlie Black, a senior McCain adviser who said that Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney had become friends.

On paper, Mr. Romney has several things going for him. He is good-looking. He is young enough to provide a balance to Mr. McCain, who at 72 would be the oldest man ever elected to a first term, but not so young as to call attention to the issue. He made inroads with some of the conservatives who have been wary of Mr. McCain in the past. And he can more easily be seen as presidential, by virtue of having run for the office. He is a good fund-raiser who can help fill the party’s coffers.

Even one of his biggest drawbacks — the barbs he aimed at Mr. McCain for months and months — could be an advantage. Vice-presidential candidates, after all, are traditionally asked to do much of the attacking in campaigns, to give the presidential candidate the chance to appear above-the-fray.

To that end, Mr. Romney seemed to be auditioning this week, taking on Senator Barack Obama’s economic and foreign policy proposals in a series of interviews. “You know, sweet talk is awful nice,” he said on CNN, “but it doesn’t compare with straight talk.”

This article, Once Bitter Rivals, McCain and Romney Make Up, first appeared in The New York Times.

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times

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