Republican presidential candidate John McCain and former rival Mike Huckabee teamed up on the campaign trail for the first time on Friday, with Huckabee joking that they were so civil when they were opponents they don't have to "unsay" any bad things.
McCain said that early in the GOP campaign, the two had a lot of time to get to know each other when they both were dismissed as the longest of long shots. Chatting with reporters on the Straight Talk Express campaign bus, McCain recalled the days when they were relegated to the most distant ends of the podium in the early Republican debates, drawing few questions from the moderators.
"Governor Huckabee and I had lots of time to chat with each other," McCain laughed. "We became friends on the campaign trail."
They were joined on the bus by their wives, Cindy McCain and Janet Huckabee.
Huckabee, hugely popular with social conservatives, has been mentioned as a potential running mate for McCain, who needs to shore up his support among conservative Republicans.
McCain responded to that speculation by offering what he called his "standard answer," saying that he didn't want to mention any names because that quickly leads to an invasion of privacy for anyone being considered.
But McCain was quick to volunteer that "millions of Republican voters voted for Governor Huckabee" in the primaries, and that he wanted the former Arkansas governor to play a prominent role in his campaign. McCain noted Huckabee still has a 65 percent approval rating in Arkansas.
When reporters asked Huckabee if he planned to campaign for McCain, it was McCain who jumped in to answer with a ready "yes."
Huckabee, for his part, deflected a question about becoming McCain's running mate by saying, "The main thing is getting Senator McCain elected."
He said it would be easy for him to promote McCain's cause, saying, "I don't have to go around and unsay anything I said in the campaign. We ran a very civil campaign."
Huckabee's low-budget, upstart candidacy was one of the big surprises of the GOP primaries. He won eight states, including the Iowa caucuses, and was the last GOP rival standing before McCain claimed the prize.
Asked whether he could help McCain build support among wary conservatives, Huckabee predicted the party would rally around McCain because the stakes are so high. As for some grumbling among conservative leaders about McCain, Huckabee said, "I don't see that in the rank and file."
What most Republican voters are worried about, Huckabee said, is "Hillary R. Obama."
The two later attended a closed fund-raiser. McCain was wrapping up his five-day "Time for Action" tour in Little Rock with a visit to a men's leadership class at Arkansas Baptist College, a traditionally black private college. He billed the tour as a journey to places that have been ignored in the changing economy. They are also places GOP presidential candidates have effectively ceded to the Democrats.
But with the Republican nomination long settled, and Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton still competing against one another for the Democratic nomination, McCain is reaching out in hopes of claiming some Democratic and independent voters.