LODI, Calif. (AP) — George W. Bush thinks he can persuade independent-minded voters to support him for president, but, to be safe, he's counting on help from Sen. John McCain.
The winner and loser of the GOP presidential nod were campaigning together Friday in Portland, Ore., and at a fund-raiser in Medina, Wash., after a day on the railroad through central California.
Bush said those states have "a lot of independent thinking people," and thinks McCain — who attracted independents during his failed presidential run — can help turn them on to him.
"Those are states that in the past couple of election cycles, people have said, 'Well, you don't have a chance,' " the Texas governor said Thursday. "Not only do we have a chance, we're going to do well, and it's awfully helpful to have John by my side."
As Bush was leaving California, Democrats were converging in Los Angeles for their national convention where Vice President Al Gore and his running mate, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, will receive their party's nomination.
"I don't think I'm going to watch much of it," Bush told ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday. "I'm definitely interested in what he (Gore) has to say," Bush said. "I'm going to watch some of it."
Bush also reiterated his desire for presidential debates with Gore but left open how many they would hold — "somewhere between zero and 62."
Accompanying Bush on a three-day campaign swing, McCain said he was proud of Bush and promised to do more to help, either at Bush's side or separately.
"I have offered to do whatever I can," he said during their first stop Thursday in Salinas. "So I will do whatever the Bush campaign determines I can do most effectively."
McCain rallied independents and crossover Democrats to his losing cause during the presidential primaries, but said he can't tell them what to do now.
"All I can really do is ask the independents to look at Governor Bush," he said. "Independents are independents because they're independent."
"... What I can do, really, is ask independents to look at him and I hope that I have the credibility with them so they will examine his campaign," McCain said.
He said they should find Bush's message of inclusion and diversity attractive.
The former rivals spent much of their first campaign day together riding a 13-car chartered train for nearly four hours, between rallies in Salinas and Lodi, with a quick stop between in Pleasanton.
"We have a united party and we are going to reunite this nation," McCain told a crowd that packed the platforms and tracks behind the train at the Lodi station, their last stop Thursday. He hailed Bush as the Republican who can carry California.
Bush returned the praise to "a man who's now on my team and I'm on his.
While the two clashed in the primaries, Bush said that's all over and they are moving on together, allies as they were before becoming rivals.
"I campaigned with John McCain," he said. "I campaigned for John McCain. I campaigned against John McCain. We're gone full cycle. I'm campaigning with John McCain.
"We were friends before and we're friends now," Bush said. "That's what you can tell the independent voter."
He brushed aside a question about his differences with McCain — on tax cuts and campaign finance reform — by saying that Gore and Lieberman, differ on some issues and they're on the same ticket.
"Gore and Lieberman are in disagreement on school vouchers, and that's going to be an interesting debate in their camp," Bush said. "Joe Lieberman and I agree on giving parents school choice."
Vouchers, supported by the Republicans and flatly opposed by Gore, would permit parents to use government funds to help send their children to private school. Lieberman has supported experimental voucher programs.