Republican Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War veteran, blasted likely Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama for never having served in uniform as the two took aim at each other in yet another sign that the presidential race is rapidly moving toward the general election matchup.
McCain’s comments on Thursday came after the Illinois senator accused the Republican of partisan posturing for opposing a bill that would guarantee full college scholarships for those who serve in the military for three years.
“I will not accept from Senator Obama, who did not feel it was his responsibility to serve our country in uniform, any lectures on my regard for those who did,” the Arizona senator said in a harshly worded statement issued on Thursday.
McCain was a Navy fighter pilot who was shot down and spent nearly six years as a Vietnam prisoner of war, and the Arizona senator is likely to stress his impressive military record and Obama’s lack of one as the race moves forward.
While the contest for the Democratic nomination is not over, Obama leads rival Hillary Rodham Clinton in the delegate count and it is virtually impossible for her to catch up with only three primaries remaining. Obama has 1,965 delegates to Clinton’s 1,780, with 2,026 needed to win the nomination.
Democratic officials said on Thursday that Obama’s campaign is quietly scouting for a running mate, with former Fannie Mae CEO Jim Johnson overseeing the early vetting.
Candidates for consideration include Hillary Clinton, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, anti-war Republican Senator Chuck Hagel and former Senator John Edwards.
Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said Obama’s vice presidential selection process “is clearly premature in that he is not yet the nominee.” He also said the Clinton campaign didn’t have a similar process under way and there had been no discussions with the Obama campaign about her becoming Obama’s No. 2.
Some Democrats are calling on Obama to pick Clinton as his vice president.
On the Republican side, the vice presidential speculation about McCain has been going on for months, fueled in part by the candidate himself. Last month, he told reporters he was in the “embryonic stages” of the search with a list of about 20 names.
This weekend McCain is hosting at least three Republicans mentioned as potential vice presidential running mates at his Sedona, Arizona, home — Florida Governor Charlie Crist, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. A top aide said it’s a social event with more than two dozen guests not meant for vice presidential vetting, but the socializing is a prime opportunity for would-be running mates.
The latest spat on Thursday between McCain and Obama came as the Democratic-led Senate passed the measure on scholarships for veterans.
Obama supports the measure but McCain opposes it, as does the Pentagon, out of concern that providing such a benefit after only three years of service would encourage people to leave the military after only one enlistment as the US fights two wars and is trying to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps.
Obama reiterated his respect for McCain’s service in a speech on the Senate floor, but added that “I could not disagree with him and the president more on this issue. There are many issues that lend themselves to partisan posturing, but giving our veterans the chance to go to college should not be one of them.”