Republican Sen. John McCain, a former prisoner of war in Vietnam, called an ad criticizing John Kerry's military service ``dishonest and dishonorable'' and urged the White House on Thursday to condemn it as well.
``It was the same kind of deal that was pulled on me,'' McCain said in an interview with The Associated Press, referring to his bitter Republican primary fight with President Bush.
The 60-second ad features Vietnam veterans who accuse the Democratic presidential nominee of lying about his decorated Vietnam War record and betraying his fellow veterans by later opposing the conflict.
``When the chips were down, you could not count on John Kerry,'' one of the veterans, Larry Thurlow, says in the ad.
The ad, scheduled to air in a few markets in Ohio, West Virginia and Wisconsin, was produced by Stevens, Reed, Curcio and Potham, the same team that produced McCain's ads in 2000.
``I wish they hadn't done it,'' McCain said of his former advisers. ``I don't know if they knew all the facts.''
Asked if the White House knew about the ad or helped find financing for it, McCain said, ``I hope not, but I don't know. But I think the Bush campaign should specifically condemn the ad.''
Later, McCain said the Bush campaign has denied any involvement and added, ``I can't believe the president would pull such a cheap stunt.''
The White House did not immediately address McCain's call that they repudiate the spot.
Steve Schmidt, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign, said Kerry's record and statements on the war on terrorism - not his service in Vietnam - are fair game. ``The Bush campaign never has and will never question John Kerry's service in Vietnam,'' he said.
In 2000, Bush's supporters sponsored a rumor campaign against McCain in the South Carolina primary, helping Bush win the primary and the nomination. McCain's supporters have never forgiven the Bush team.
McCain said that's all in the past to him, but he's speaking out against the anti-Kerry ad because he believes it's bad for the political system. ``It reopens all the old wounds of the Vietnam War, which I spent the last 35 years trying to heal,'' he said.
``I deplore this kind of politics. I think the ad is dishonest and dishonorable. As it is, none of these individuals served on the boat (Kerry) commanded. Many of his crew have testified to his courage under fire. I think John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam. I think George Bush served honorably in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War.''
McCain himself spent more than five years in a Vietnam prisoner of war camp. A bona fide war hero, McCain, like Kerry, used his war record as the foundation of his presidential campaign.
The Kerry campaign has denounced the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, saying none of the men in the ad served on the boat that Kerry commanded. The leader of the group, retired Adm. Roy Hoffmann, said none of the 13 veterans in the commercial served on Kerry's boat but rather were in other swiftboats within 50 yards of Kerry's.
Jim Rassmann, an Army veteran who was saved by Kerry, said there were only six crewmates who served with Kerry on his boat. Five support his candidacy and one is deceased.
Overreach is always a danger. McCain is putting Bush into a corner. Either Bush repudiates the ad, or he's exposed as supporting it. Rove won't allow repudiation. But if Bush is shown to be a supporter, then he exposes his true nature -- and McCain may join the fight on Kerry's side.