"It shows that if you live long enough, anything can happen."

So quoth John McCain last week upon receiving the most unlikely of citations: "Team Player of the Week" from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. For the senator from Arizona, a frequent antagonist of President Bush and the party hierarchy, it was about as sensible as giving Kim Jong Il the Nobel Peace Prize.

The NRSC's chairman, Sen. George Allen (Va.), a former University of Virginia quarterback, presented McCain with an official "game ball" football for his troubles, Roll Call reported.

True, McCain has been campaigning for Bush and GOP candidates. And he was on his best behavior in his prime-time address during the Republican National Convention. But the day after receiving the game ball, he rushed onto the Senate floor to blast a Republican tax cut bill, saying: "We're hurting our children, our grandchildren, and who knows how many future generations of Americans. . . . We're tying a millstone of debt around their necks, and it is a grave mistake."

Team player that he is, McCain voted for the tax cut anyway.

Other vanquished Republican presidential candidates of 2000 have also become team players this year. Gary Bauer, the religious conservative who waged an unsuccessful challenge to Bush in the 2000 GOP primary before endorsing McCain, has created an independent political committee to attack Democratic Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) in television ads to run in Michigan and Pennsylvania. Americans United to Preserve Marriage will spend $500,000 on commercials branding Kerry a "liberal."

And Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) took it upon himself to give a speech on the Senate floor Friday taking the hatchet to Joe Lockhart, a Kerry adviser. Hatch was angry that Lockhart has suggested that Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi is a "puppet" of the United States. "When you undermine our principal ally in a war against terror and tyranny, you are undermining our cause," Hatch said, furthering a GOP line that Kerry has been aiding the enemy.

Missing: 983,000 Tax Pages

Looks as though President Bush is due for an audit of his tax code facts. "The tax code is a complicated mess," he said in Bangor, Maine, on Thursday. "You realize, it's a million pages long." Most Americans probably did not realize it was that long, because it is not. It is, in fact, 17,000 pages long, according to such experts as the conservative Heritage Foundation and Rep. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). That's still pretty messy, but only one-fiftieth as messy as Bush asserts.

The Anchor as Punching Bag

And you thought Osama bin Laden was scary.

In Texas, a Republican House candidate has found a new villain: CBS News's Dan Rather. The anchor's visage pops up in a negative ad in his home state, where Republican Louie Gohmert is trying to unseat Rep. Max Sandlin (D).

"Seen Max Sandlin's negative ads? They've got more holes than a CBS News story by Dan Rather," says the spot for Gohmert. On the screen is a headline about the "60 Minutes" story on Bush and the National Guard that produced a Rather apology last week over documents that the network could not authenticate. The ad hits Sandlin's allegedly "liberal" record, saying: "No wonder he supports John Kerry."

"It's a juvenile effort making an invalid comparison that a lot of people won't get, and those who do won't care," said Bill Brannon, Sandlin's campaign manager. But Gohmert spokesman Keats Norfleet calls the ad a "humorous" way of punching back now that "Mr. Rather's questionable reporting regarding President Bush has become a topic for late-night talk shows."

Another Political Football

Just when you thought the 2004 campaign could not get any stranger . . .

The Republican National Committee has acknowledged that it sent mailings in West Virginia and Arkansas warning that Democrats want to ban the Bible. The Arkansas mailing, about same-sex marriage, shows a Bible with the label "Banned" and the warning: "This will be Arkansas if you don't vote." The RNC has also set up Web sites KerryWrongForCatholics.com and KerryWrongForMormons.com.

Meantime, the Hill newspaper reported last week, a Republican lobbying firm, DCI, whose clients include the pharmaceuticals industry, is offering a $4,000 bounty to health care consultants who find senior citizens "willing to speak out in favor of the Medicare drug discount card and write letters to Congress thanking members for saving them money on pharmaceuticals."

Democrats Meet the Silencers

Maybe it's bioterrorism. Democratic presidential nominee Kerry canceled events Thursday in Ohio and Iowa so he could recover from a cold that was causing his voice to sound scratchy. He was replaced at the Iowa event by his running mate, Sen. John Edwards (N.C.). That would be the same John Edwards who had to rest his voice before his convention acceptance speech because of a sore throat. And for Kerry, the problem seems to be somewhat chronic. The candidate frequently complained of allergies and what he called "a chest thing" that dogged him through the primaries. He had to limit speaking at times and sip lemon tea.

Haven't these guys heard of Vitamin C?

Staff writer Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) was declared "Team Player of the Week" by the Republican senatorial committee and was handed a game ball for his efforts.