WASHINGTON (CNN) – On the day that voters in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. went to the polls, two of the three senators who are running for president made rare visits to Capitol Hill where they cast a series of votes on a controversial bill authorizing the surveillance of suspected terrorists.
Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and his potential rival in the general election Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, were on the senate floor for several hours and bumped into each other at one point and exchanged smiles, a hand shake and a brief “friendly” conversation, according to McCain.
Both also spent a lot of time catching up one-on-one with colleagues. For Obama, it was a chance to speak directly with Democratic senators who are also designated super delegates - those key party officials who may ultimately decide who wins the nomination.
Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, skipped that opportunity – and the votes on the warrant-less wiretap legislation – as she spent much of the day at her campaign headquarters in nearby suburban Virginia where she conducted satellite interviews with journalists in Texas and Ohio, two critical upcoming primary states.
A spokesman later said Sen. Clinton was “unable to vote” but strongly opposes the legislation which is backed by the Bush administration.
Later, McCain won a standing ovation from his colleagues at a closed-door weekly lunch of Senate Republicans. Famously superstitious, McCain knocked on the wooden podium when he stood to speak.
“He stressed the importance of making sure that we’ve got a unified front going into the fall and he’s going to be working hard on that,” said Sen. John Thune, R-SD, who attended the lunch.
Thune described McCain as “restrained” and said the Arizona senator realizes, “we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
At the lunch, Sen. Ted Stevens, who has had battled with McCain over pork-barrel spending, approached the Arizona senator and said he would support him for president.
Stevens said despite their battles he has great respect for what McCain went through as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “It’s hard to hate a person like that,” Stevens said.
Obama may have left the campaign trail for a few hours but didn’t seem to lose the campaign spirit. He made a point of shaking hands with the employees who staff the Senate floor - all likely voters in the local primary - and at one point buttonholed Virginia’s Democratic Sen. Jim Webb to ask if he had gone to the polls yet.
–CNN's Ted Barrett, Dana Bash, Deirdre Walsh, Kate Bolduan, and Peter Hamby