'I won't be your running mate,' McCain tells Kerry

Republican Senator John McCain has rejected John Kerry's overtures to join the Democratic presidential ticket and forge a bipartisan alliance against President George W Bush. Mr Kerry had asked Mr McCain as recently as late May to consider becoming his running mate.

But the Arizona Senator said he is not interested, according to a Democratic official who spoke on condition of anonymity because Kerry has insisted that his deliberations be kept private. A second official familiar with the conversations confirmed the account, and said the Arizona Senator made it clear that he will not change his mind.

Both officials said that Mr Kerry had stopped short of offering Senator McCain the job, sparing himself an outright rejection that would make his eventual running mate look like a second choice. "Senator McCain categorically states that he has not been offered the vice presidency by any one," said his chief of staff, Mark Salter, who would not confirm the officials' account. Mr Kerry's spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter declined to comment.

The development may lay to rest speculation that Mr Kerry and Mr McCain would reach across Washington's deep partisan divide and create an unprecedented political partnership. The notion has been rife with obstacles from the start - Senator McCain is a strong-willed conservative and Mr Kerry a liberal from Massachusetts, who would be loath to surrender any official responsibilities that Senator McCain might demand.

But the fellow Senators and Vietnam veterans are friends; their bond sealed as they worked together to help President Clinton improve relations with Vietnam. President Clinton, who did not fight in the war, needed political cover from Mr Kerry, a decorated Navy veteran, and Mr McCain, a former prisoner of war.

Mr McCain's cool relationship with President Bush had fostered Democrats' hopes, but the Senator has repeatedly declared his allegiance to the Republican Party. Mr McCain lost a bitter campaign against Mr Bush for the 2000 Republican nomination, leaving wounds that may never heal.

Mr McCain has said publicly that he has no intention of serving as vice president, at times leaving the door open just enough to create a constant buzz. But in private, he has ruled out serving under Mr Kerry.

In recent days, officials close to Mr Kerry have repeatedly reached out to McCain advisers in hopes of persuading the Senator to join the ticket. A Republican maverick, Mr McCain jumped to Mr Kerry's defence when the White House accused the Democrat of being weak on defence. "This kind of rhetoric, I think, is not helpful," he said in March, admonishing the White House.

His shoot-from-the-hip style has made Senator McCain one of the nation's most popular politicians. A recent poll for CBSfound that a Kerry-McCain ticket had a 14-point advantage over Bush-Cheney among registered voters, 53 per cent to 39 per cent.

Mr Kerry is said to be giving serious consideration to Senator John Edwards of North Carolina, Representative Dick Gephardt of Missouri and retired general Wesley Clark of Arkansas.

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