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McCain would welcome Bush on the trail

The Republican Party’s presumptive nominee for president, Sen. John McCain, said he would be “proud” if President Bush campaigned with him in the general election. On “Larry King Live,” McCain -- once a bitter enemy of Bush’s -- said: “I would be proud to have President Bush campaign with me and support me in any way that he feels is appropriate. And I would appreciate it.”

King, seemingly surprised, asked, “Despite his low popularity?”

McCain replied: “I’m not the kind of person that looks at people’s popularity. I have a very good relationship with this president. I’m glad he won in 2000 and 2004. We have had some disagreements, but we share many, many values and principles of our Republican Party. And I’m not going to -- it’s just not me to say that somehow because someone may not be popular that they shouldn’t campaign with me. In fact, I welcome it.”

In the 2000 campaign, McCain slyly challenged Bush in New Hampshire before and after the Texas governor won Iowa. As he did in this campaign, McCain worked the Granite State hard all summer and fall, holding endless town-hall meetings.

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At breakfast on election day, advisor Karl Rove knew Bush would lose by 15 percentage points. The final was 19 points, a serious shellacking that seemed to give McCain’s “Straight Talk Express” momentum. But Bush stopped him three weeks later in South Carolina.

McCain ultimately endorsed the party’s victor.

In a recent interview on Fox, Bush declined to endorse any Republican but called McCain “a true conservative,” and said he would help the Arizonan if he wanted it, a subtle go-ahead signal to Bush’s allies. The president’s brother Jeb and Rove have now contributed to McCain’s campaign.

Past as prologue

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Roger Simon, the veteran political writer now slinging words for Politico, raises an interesting point.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has argued for months that she would be a stronger candidate in the fall because she has withstood several Republican attacks. In fact, some of the more notable set-tos have become searchable keywords: Whitewater. Vincent Foster. Rose Law Firm.

But skepticism abounds, especially since Clinton has declined to make her income tax returns public; Barack Obama released his last year for 2006. And records from her eight years as first lady remain closed in Bill Clinton’s presidential library in Arkansas.

Obama, he of the self-confessed drug past, argues that he too has been vetted and there’s nothing left for the Republicans to ferret out.

Pah, says Simon. Just because something is known doesn’t mean the candidate has been inoculated.

“If Obama wins the nomination, we are going to hear a lot more about Tony Rezko and the Exelon Corp. And if Clinton is the nominee, get ready for a reprise of Whitewater and her cattle futures trading, to name just two. In presidential politics, the past is not just prologue. It’s ammunition.”

A political rarity

A mini-political earthquake occurred in Maryland last week -- two House incumbents, one-quarter of the state’s eight-member delegation, lost their primary races.

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How rare is this? In 2004, two was the nationwide total of House incumbents knocked off in primaries. And over the last 14 years in California, with its 50-plus House seats, all of three incumbents have lost the usually rote nominating contests: Republican Jay Kim in 1998 (because of scandal), Democrat Matthew Martinez in 2000 (because he had seriously lost touch with his district) and Democrat Gary Condit in 2002 (again, because of scandal).

Understandably, the upheaval in Maryland was caught in the undertow of presidential politics -- mainly, the huge wave of primary and caucus wins that Obama has been riding. But the Maryland results raise a cautionary flag for those, like Obama, who decry the politics of polarization and call for a new attitude of cooperation in Washington.

Eight-term Democrat Albert R. Wynn was beat by a more liberal opponent who painted him as too moderate. Nine-term Republican Wayne T. Gilchrest was beat by a more conservative foe who depicted him as -- you guessed it -- too moderate.

Polls, polls, polls

New polls out last week show mixed news for the Democratic contenders, with Obama holding a slight lead (but within the margin of error) in Wisconsin, which votes Tuesday, and Clinton with a solid lead in Ohio, which votes March 4.

But delving inside the numbers shows the race remains unsettled, with 1 in 4 of those polled in Wisconsin saying they could still change their minds (remember New Hampshire?).

As we’ve pointed out before, polls are good at telling us what has happened but not so good at telling us what will happen. So what has happened is that Obama and Clinton have pretty much split the Wisconsin electorate, and either of them could win it at this point, while she has kept her lead among key constituencies in Ohio.

But what will happen is a matter of conjecture. So let’s conject. If Obama wins Wisconsin convincingly, you have to suspect the race in Ohio will tighten. But if Clinton wins Wisconsin, where Democrats embrace the state’s progressive tradition, then she would head into Ohio and Texas having thrown a lasso around the horse on which some think Obama is running away.

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Winning Ohio and Texas could give Clinton the lead again in the delegate count, and then this all begins to look like the final quarter of a football game.

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Times staff writer Scott Martelle contributed to this report.

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Excerpted from The Times’ political blog, Top of the Ticket, at www.latimes .com/topoftheticket


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