McCain and Huckabee joke with each other Thursday night at a press conference in Iowa.
SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNN) – One thing seemed clear Thursday night at the AARP-sponsored 'Divided We Fail' candidate forum–Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee like each other.
Numerous compliments were sent back and forth during their hour and a half together on stage, and the phrase "I respect him" was tossed around more than a few times.
Huckabee praised McCain's ability to focus on the issues in the Senate and avoid the name-calling that often prevails.
"I have great respect for him," Huckabee said. "All kidding aside, I know we're competitors in the presidential race, but he has been willing to rise above that kind of nonsense time and time again...to try to really bring solutions to the problems."
To that, McCain said, "Obviously I thank Gov. Huckabee for his kind remarks, and that respect is reciprocated by me and my appreciation and the fact that I have gotten to know him rather well during this campaign."
The forum, which was originally formatted to be a debate among all Republican candidates, was re-tooled a bit after no other major candidates accepted an invitation to appear. The two candidates had been told they would each hold separate town hall-style meetings, but instead they ended up appearing on stage at the same time, even sitting next to each other at one solitary table.
"Sen. McCain suggested that we both come to the stage together," Huckabee explained in his closing remarks, "and I thought that was an extraordinarily great idea. I appreciate him. It shows really the kind of statesman he is, and I want to commend him for that."
"I want to thank my friend Gov. Huckabee," McCain said in his wrap-up. "He's a man of integrity, honesty, and decency."
Asked at a press conference if these signs of affection mean the two of them have more respect for each other than for any other candidate in the field, McCain told CNN that he generally respects them all.
"But I have to be honest with you," McCain continued, "We have spent time together during these debates and at other times, and frankly I respected Gov. Huckabee when he was governor of the state of Arkansas...We're not in the business of ranking, but I'm very pleased we developed further the relationship we already had."
"I believe the senator is a true honest-to-God American hero," Huckabee said. "There are clearly some I enjoy the company of a whole lot more than others, and I enjoy the company of Sen. McCain."
So, would the two consider each other as potential running mates? Huckabee was first to chime in.
"I'd be happy to have Sen. McCain as my vice president," he said smiling.
"I knew you'd say that," McCain shot back laughing. "I knew he'd get that line in before me!"
-CNN Iowa Producer Chris Welch