Republican John McCain says he has not ruled out choosing Pennsylvania's popular former Gov. Tom Ridge as a running mate despite his support for abortion rights, a hot-button issue that could inflame some voters among the party's conservative base.
McCain appeared to be testing the issue — weighing the benefits against the costs of picking Ridge, who could help the Arizona senator win Pennsylvania. The presidential election is won on a state-by-state basis with more populous states, such as Pennsylvania, carrying greater weight in the results..
McCain opposes abortion rights, while his Democratic opponent Barack Obama supports a woman's right to choose the procedure in most cases.
"And also I feel that — and I'm not trying to equivocate here — that Americans want us to work together," McCain added. "You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don't think that that would necessarily would rule Tom Ridge out."
In an interview with The Weekly Standard, a conservative publication, McCain also was asked about comments he made to several reporters during the Republican primary season about the prospect of picking New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former Republican who is now an independent, for vice president. The Arizona senator praised Bloomberg, but said the mayor's support for abortion rights would make it difficult to choose him.
Ridge, McCain told the magazine, would be more palatable to social conservatives.
"I think it's a fundamental tenet of our party to be pro-life but that does not mean we exclude people from our party that are pro-choice," McCain said. He called the gap between the two sides a disagreement — "albeit strong."
Obama has refused to talk about whom he might select as a running mate, but speculation is centering on Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and Joe Biden, the long-serving Delaware senator and a former presidential candidate.
Also Wednesday, McCain said that as president he would not send American military forces into the conflict in Georgia, the former Soviet republic invaded by Russia late last week.
But, he said, Russia must be made to understand that it will pay a heavy price for the military incursion, which has been condemned both by him and Obama.
The candidates have both tried to use the conflict in Georgia as a vehicle to convince voters they would offer a steady hand on the helm of U.S. foreign and security policy.
McCain, who routinely questions Obama's readiness to serve as president, blasted the Russian invasion of Georgia, but said he was not concerned relations would return to the kind of dangerous nuclear standoff between the West and Russia that marked the second half of the last century.
"I don't think we are going to re-ignite the Cold War," McCain said during a news conference in Michigan.
McCain spoke after President George W. Bush dispatched Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Paris. She later will head to Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Bush also said he ordered Defense Secretary Robert Gates to undertake a military airlift to move needed humanitarian relief to the Georgians.
Obama, who is vacationing in Hawaii, his birth state, said he welcomed "President Bush's decision to send aid to the people of Georgia, and Americans stand united in support of the men and women who will carry out this humanitarian mission."
He again said Russia "must back up its commitment to stop its violence and violation of Georgia's sovereignty with actions — not just words."
The Kremlin had said it was ending its military operation in Georgia, which it said had been sufficiently "punished" for its attempt to re-establish control over South Ossetia, a Georgian region that broke away shortly after the Caucasus country gained independence when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.
But on Thursday explosions were heard near Gori, as a Russian troop withdrawal from the strategic Georgian city seemed to collapse. A fragile cease-fire appeared even more shaky as Russia's foreign minister declared that the world "can forget about any talk about Georgia's territorial integrity."
Both Obama and McCain are calling for a strong diplomatic response and a reexamination of the U.S. relationship with Moscow.