LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- Republican presidential candidate John McCain and former rival Mike Huckabee dodged talk of whether Huckabee could be McCain's vice presidential running mate as they campaigned together on Friday.
Former Arkansas Gov. Huckabee maintained his race for the Republican presidential nomination even after it was clear McCain was going to clinch the position, only withdrawing once McCain secured sufficient nominating delegates in March.
The two men, however, have developed a friendly relationship -- based in part on the chats they had while sometimes waiting lengthy periods for questions to come to them during many Republican presidential debates.
McCain considers Huckabee quick on his feet with a quip and likes his ability to attract conservative Republicans, who were cool to McCain during much of his race for the nomination.
Huckabee has called the vice presidential position a job that no one could refuse but also one he does not expect to be offered. That has not stopped pundits from speculating about the possibility of a McCain-Huckabee ticket.
The two men, joined by their wives, Cindy McCain and Janet Huckabee, joked their way through a 20-minute ride on McCain's "Straight Talk Express" after the Huckabees greeted the McCains at their airplane on arrival in Little Rock.
McCain, asked about having Huckabee as his running mate, said he was just starting the search process and declined to speculate about Huckabee's chances.
"If you talk about people's names, it rapidly leads to an invasion of privacy," he said.
But he noted: "Governor Huckabee got the votes of millions of Republican voters. He's a very important part of any election process and I will rely on him for a lot of things. I think he has a greater service to render to this nation."
SEARCH FOR A RUNNING MATE
McCain says his vice presidential search is in the early process and that he will pick someone before the Republican nominating convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, in early September.
Huckabee did not lobby for the job.
"The main thing is getting Senator McCain elected," he said. "That's what is important for all Republicans who care about the future of the country. There's going to be a real stark contrast against Senator McCain and either of the two Democrats."
It was the second day in a row McCain has come face to face with a potential running mate. In New Orleans on Thursday, he appeared with Louisiana Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal, and McCain called him "part of the next generation of leaders."
Huckabee pledged to do whatever he could to get McCain elected, and McCain noted that the former governor who ran for president had a popularity approval rating of about 65 percent in his home state.
Huckabee could be a critical factor in Arkansas if Democrat Hillary Clinton wins her party's nomination over Barack Obama. The wife of former President Bill Clinton, a long-time Arkansas governor, leads McCain in hypothetical matchups in the state.
"He was particularly successful in the South," McCain said of Huckabee's presidential bid. "I think there are a lot of places where Governor Huckabee can be helpful."
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