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Close Kerry-McCain Kinship Has Dissolved Since 2004

In 1992, Kerry gave McCain a pilot's helmet that he received on a trip to Vietnam.
In 1992, Kerry gave McCain a pilot's helmet that he received on a trip to Vietnam. (Associated Press)
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If the vice presidential offer/non-offer strained Kerry and McCain's relationship, the ad that the group Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ran during the 2004 campaign attacking Kerry's military record threatened to end it entirely.

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McCain quickly spoke out against the ad, calling it "dishonest" and "dishonorable" and comparing it to the criticism of his military service during the 2000 presidential primaries. But he did not allow Kerry to use his image in rebuttal ads -- a decision that many Kerry supporters viewed as insufficient payback for Kerry's support of McCain in 2000.

"John McCain pretty thoroughly revealed his character when he refused to defend his Vietnam 'brother' from the slimy Swift boaters," said Jim Jordan, who managed Kerry's presidential bid for much of 2003. "McCain's second campaign for the Republican nomination and his support for more U.S. troops in Iraq added to the strain. As the senator from Arizona grew more and more strident about increasing troop levels and about the danger of setting timetables for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, Kerry emerged as a leading voice in favor of beginning a drawdown.

In describing his differences with McCain over the handling of Iraq, Kerry repeatedly invokes Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and James Webb (D-Va.) -- two other senators who served in Vietnam and see the current conflict far more like Kerry does than McCain does. "They oppose him on the war and think he's dead wrong," Kerry said. "They oppose his judgment on the GI Bill."

Although Kerry insisted that he and McCain still share the "bond of service that never goes away," it is clear that he thinks McCain has made a colossal misjudgment about Iraq -- a decision that has distanced him from the other senators who have served in the military.

And Kerry's willingness to serve as the lead attack dog for Sen. Barack Obama, McCain's Democratic rival for the presidency, against McCain's policies on Iraq and national security is the clearest sign yet that the close kinship that once existed between the two men is gone.

Kerry described McCain as "unbelievably out of touch" and "confused" after the Republican said, "That's not too important," in response to a question about when U.S. troops might return from Iraq. In late June, when retired Army Col. George "Bud" Day, who was involved in the Swift boat group's effort, was part of a conference call defending McCain's military record, Kerry called on McCain to condemn the remarks and cut ties with Day.

Ed Reilly, a longtime Democratic pollster and Kerry adviser, insisted that the same traits that drew Kerry and McCain together -- shared service and commitment to country -- are what have driven a wedge between them.

"There will always be a bond there, because they're veterans and because they went through the POW investigation together, but the same intensity of their feelings as veterans which brought them together has pushed them apart on two big policy areas this election," Reilly said. "They took away very different lessons."


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