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SENATE TAKES BACK SEAT TO CAMPAIGNING

WASHINGTON

Republican front-runner John McCain has skipped more than half of the Senate's votes in the past year, though he showed up Thursday to help pass a bill to stimulate the faltering economy. Almost every Republican lined up to shake his hand and congratulate the Arizona Republican and presumptive nominee. McCain said that getting to Washington to vote is "very hard, obviously" and that the Democratic contenders, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, face the same problem. But Obama and Clinton have missed fewer votes, according to the Democratic National Committee, which keeps a tally:

-McCain has missed 255 of 450 votes cast in the Senate since January 2007, or 57 percent, including every vote this year.

-Obama has missed 38 percent, or 170 votes.

-Clinton has missed 24 percent, or 108 votes.

WASHINGTON

President still on the fence

President Bush, unpopular nationally but still a fundraising force, is ready to put the power of the White House behind the Republican nominee for president, but exactly what his role will be is a tricky matter. He showed no signs Thursday, after Mitt Romney pulled out of the GOP race, that he would break his relative silence on the campaign. What's clear for now is that Bush will be putting his weight behind McCain, an ally with whom he has had a complicated relationship, but the White House is waiting until he either clinches the nomination or emerges as the last man standing because of withdrawals by the other candidates. Asked about Romney's move, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said Bush would only comment when the Republican race is "clarified."

PHOENIX

Mellencamp stakes song claim

It may be our country, but it's John Mellencamp's song. When the liberal rocker found out his songs were being played at events for McCain's presidential campaign, his publicist sent a letter that questioned the campaign's playlist. "Are you sure you want to use his music to promote Senator McCain's efforts?" according to the letter sent to McCain's campaign on Monday. "Logic says that the facts might prove to be an embarrassment, were they to be circulated widely." The letter explained that Mellencamp was a liberal who had supported Democrat John Edwards, who recently dropped out of the race. The songs would no longer be played, McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers said Thursday.

Also on the trail

Responding to a request from the Clinton camp seeking five debates before March 4, Obama agreed to two, a Feb. 26 debate in Cleveland and a later debate in Texas. ... James Dobson, one of the nation's most prominent evangelical Christian leaders, is about to endorse former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Dobson, founder of Colorado Springs, Colo.-based Focus on the Family, talked to the GOP hopeful Thursday and was to release a statement later explaining his choice, said Gary Schneeberger, a spokesman for Dobson. ... Iowa Gov. Chet Culver endorsed Obama Thursday in Omaha, Neb. His backing gives Obama a boost in Iowa and means Culver will support the Illinois senator as a superdelegate at the nominating convention.

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