Fri, Sep 08, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Former presidents draw media to New Jersey race

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Whether it is providing relief for victims of hurricanes or tsunamis, the most recent past US presidents -- George Bush and Bill Clinton -- have occasionally found themselves occupying a common ground in retirement that would have been difficult to imagine while each was in office.

They found themselves linked again on Wednesday -- this time unintentionally -- when each appeared at separate fundraising event on behalf of the candidates in the increasingly contentious race for a US Senate seat in New Jersey.

In what could have been a scheduling quirk or a low-end political dirty trick, Bush appeared with the Republican nominee, state Senator Thomas Kean Jr., at a Marriott hotel in Bridgewater, while just about 48km away, in Elizabeth, Clinton was attending a fundraiser for US Senator Robert Menendez.

The appearance of the two former presidents underscored the significance of the race, which has remained unexpectedly tight despite the Democrats' overwhelming majority in New Jersey and Menendez's edge, by a margin of 3-1, in fundraising.

On the other hand, Kean is the son of one of the state's most popular governors, Thomas Kean.

Even Bush acknowledged the strange timing of the dueling New Jersey visits.

"I have enjoyed, incidentally, working with Bill Clinton, who's here," Bush said, noting Clinton's presence in the state. "Barbara keeps calling us `The Odd Couple."'

"I must say, it's been a joy to work with the man," Bush said.

"We just leave our political differences, of which there are plenty, and might be more coming up, but leave them and check them out at the door and go on and try to help. And I think sometimes you do want to reach across the aisle," he said.

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