Bush/McCain on Whistle Stop Tour

Hoping to make a run at the nations’s biggest electoral-college prize, George W. Bush continued his train tour of California — joined by his former rival, Sen.John McCain.

By Peter Dizikes ABCNEWS.com Aug. 10 — Former rivals George W. Bush and Sen. John McCain hit the campaign trail together in California today, joining forces as part of Bush’s bid to win the nation’s biggest state.

“The primaries are over,” McCain said at a news conference in Salinas, Calif., referring to the often-bitter battle the two men waged for the GOP’s presidential nomination.

The Arizona senator added that he was “committed to moving forward,” and said he was “very optimistic” about Bush’s chances to win California.

Bush also played down any notion of lingering animosity between the two.

“I think you can judge a man by the company he keeps,” Bush told the crowd at an afternoon rally in Salinas. “I’m keeping pretty good company.”

At the earlier news conference, Bush said he had a “good chance of carrying California,” the nation’s biggest electoral-college prize with 54 votes. Democrat Bill Clinton handily won the state in both the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections.

C-A in Play?

The joint appearance comes on the heels of some good news for Bush. A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows the Texas Gov. trailing his Democratic rival, Vice President Al Gore, by just three points in the state, 40 percent to 37 percent. Green Party nominee Ralph Nader came in at eight percent and possible Reform Party candidate Pat Buchanan had one percent.

But Bush’s post-convention bounce in the polls, as well as the possibility that Nader could siphon votes away from Gore, means that the Republicans have not given up hope of carrying California.

McCain’s said he hoped that this appearance — his first at a Bush campaign event — would appeal to California’s sizeable chunk of the independent voters, a group McCain drew heavy support from during the primaries.

“All I can do really is ask independents to look at Gov. Bush,” said McCain. “I hope that I would have the credibility with them so that they would examine this campaign.”

Bush aides have also expressed optimism about the state by pointing out that in California’s open primary last March, in which citizens could cast votes in either party’s contest, Bush and McCain attracted more votes than the two Democratic contenders, Gore and former Sen. Bill Bradley.

Onward and Upward

Bush and McCain are scheduled to travel by train to a later rally in Lodi, and Bush is set to attend an evening fund-raiser at the Stockton home of Alex Spanos, owner of the NFL’s San Diego Chargers, which is expected to haul in up to $400,000.

The train tour will then continue to the Pacific Northwest, with Bush and McCain stopping in Oregon Friday and Washington on Saturday.

The two Republicans have appeared together in public only twice since the primaries: once in Pittsburgh, on May 9, when McCain announced his endorsement of Bush, and at last week’s convention, when McCain joined many other Republicans on stage after Bush’s acceptance speech.