ABC News’ Hope Ditto and Teddy Davis report: Former Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said Wednesday that former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, called him on Tuesday urging him to endorse Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., sparking charges from Democrats that the former McCain adviser is still active on behalf of the Republican presidential nominee.
"I got a phone call yesterday and it was a bit of a surprise to me because their request was that I endorse John McCain. The argument was, ‘he would do a little less harm than the other candidate,’" said Paul.
Despite Gramm’s effort to convince the Texas congressman that McCain would keep taxes lower than Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., Paul turned down the offer to get on board.
"How could I support a candidate that doesn’t support the positions that I’ve supported for 30 years?" asked Paul. "I would have to reject everything I believed in and worked for and voted for, and I said, ‘it might diminish my credibility.’"
Jesse Benton, a Paul spokesman, elaborated on the decision not to endorse, telling ABC News, "It’s all well and good to cut taxes and to keep taxes low. But if you don’t address the spending — and that includes the overseas spending on troops in 130 countries — the tax issue is almost irrelevant."
Though Paul’s refusal to endorse McCain is nothing new, the Democratic National Committee pounced on his remarks, which they saw as a sign that Gramm is continuing to help McCain after publicly disassociating himself.
Gramm, who advised McCain on economic issues, left the campaign on July 18 after telling The Washington Times that the United States had "become a nation of whiners." Democrats used the Gramm interview, in which he pointed out that the United States was not technically in a recession, to portray McCain as out of touch with economic anxiety.
"Who did John McCain task with securing Ron Paul’s endorsement?" asked the DNC’s Damien LaVera in a Wednesday e-mail to reporters. "Phil ‘Nation of Whiners’ Gramm."
Asked why Gramm called Paul if he is no longer supposed to be playing a role in the McCain campaign, Benton said, "Ron and Sen. Gramm have known each other for 20 years. He said, ‘Ron, this is Phil. I’d like you to consider endorsing McCain. Here’s why … ‘
"It was Phil Gramm calling on behalf of Phil Gramm. He was not making an official call on behalf of McCain," said Benton in an explanation that is not likely to satisfy Democrats intent on reviving stories about the McCain-Gramm connection.
Beyond discussing the pro-McCain pitch he received from Gramm, Paul told reporters at the National Press Club on Wednesday that Americans should consider supporting a third-party candidate in the 2008 campaign. He did not, however, endorse a particular candidate.
Paul also said that he is not considering a presidential bid as the candidate of the Reform Party. Though the Reform Party selected Paul as their candidate in Virginia, Paul said he is taking steps to remove his name from the ballot.
The Reform Party is planning to make a national presidential endorsement on Oct. 11 when it holds its national convention in New York, N.Y.