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Published: Saturday, 2/9/2008

McCain skirts specifics on his VP pick


NORFOLK, Va. - On his first full day as the likely Republican presidential nominee, John McCain fended off discussion of specific potential running mates but made clear he sees no requirement to pick someone from a different region.

"I don't want to in any way sidestep the candidacy of Governor Huckabee," Mr. McCain said before flying off to campaign in Wichita, Kan., and Seattle. "He's in this race, and for me to dismiss him would be inappropriate and unrealistic."

But the Arizona senator did offer his view that regionally balanced tickets may be a thing of the past.

Mr. McCain's chief rival, Mitt Romney, suspended his campaign on Thursday. Some party figures and commentators have suggested Mr. McCain might select Mike Huckabee as a vice presidential nominee to benefit from the Arkansas governor's appeal in the South, where Mr. McCain has less support.

"From a practical standpoint, I think former President Clinton and Vice President Gore showed us you don't have to be regionally different," Mr. McCain said.

Mr. Clinton, who was Arkansas' governor, and Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee made up the first national ticket entirely from the South.

"The fundamental principle behind any selection of a running mate would be whether that person is fully prepared to take over and shares your values, your principles, your philosophy, and your priorities," Mr. McCain said.

A day after a conciliatory speech to conservative activists, many of whom distrust him, Mr. McCain acknowledged to reporters, "I know that we have a lot of work to do to unite the party."

He earned the backing late yesterday of one prominent conservative, former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson, who had been a rival in the primaries.

"Through his character and determination, John McCain has effectively beaten the field in the primary. It is time for Republicans to acknowledge the fact that in Senator McCain we have a man who can win in November at a time that odds will be against us," Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. McCain held a morning round-table discussion on national security in the Navy town of Norfolk, Va. The onetime Vietnam prisoner of war stuck to military issues, which have helped him make inroads with his conservative critics.

Mr. McCain said it should not be difficult to expand the U.S. military despite a shortfall in recruitment. "To somehow think we can't recruit and retain an all-volunteer force flies in the face of history," he said.

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