Republican Sen. John McCain (search) allowed a glimmer of hope Wednesday for Democrats fantasizing about a bipartisan dream team to defeat President Bush -- a far-flung notion the senator's staff quickly squashed.

McCain said in a television interview that he would consider the unorthodox step of running for vice president on the Democratic ticket -- in the unlikely event he received such an offer from the presidential candidate.

"John Kerry (search) is a close friend of mine. We have been friends for years," McCain said Wednesday when pressed to squelch speculation about a Kerry-McCain ticket. "Obviously I would entertain it."

Within hours, the Arizona senator's chief of staff, Mark Salter, closed the door on that idea. "Senator McCain will not be a candidate for vice president in 2004," Salter told The Associated Press, saying he spoke for the senator.

McCain had emphasized how unlikely the whole idea was.

"It's impossible to imagine the Democratic Party seeking a pro-life, free-trading, non-protectionist, deficit hawk," the senator told ABC's "Good Morning America" during an interview about illegal steroid use. "They'd have to be taking some steroids, I think, in order to let that happen."

McCain gained a reputation as a party maverick who appeals to independent voters during his 2000 race against Bush for the Republican nomination. This year, McCain has campaigned for the president and said he would continue to do so.

Unlike some other Republican senators, he hasn't railed against Kerry, a fellow Vietnam veteran. McCain called the Kerry-Bush contest "the nastiest campaign so far that we have seen" and said he preferred campaigning for candidates instead of against their opponents.