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Pentagon walks fine line in 2008 campaign

  • Story Highlights
  • Military official: McCain's stops at Navy bases prompted Pentagon discussions
  • The stops were part of McCain's "Service to America" tour
  • Pentagon recently updated a directive on restrictions on military campaigning
  • Candidates have long been barred from campaigning at military installations
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From Barbara Starr
CNN Pentagon Correspondent
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Stops by Sen. John McCain at U.S. Navy bases this week prompted internal Navy and Pentagon discussions, according to a military official with direct knowledge of the discussions.

The official said the discussions regarding the McCain appearances, including Wednesday's speech and private meetings at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where his son is midshipman, "were not contentious" and there is no allegation of any wrongdoing.

The staff discussions came as the Pentagon recently updated a military directive spelling out restrictions on the U.S. military during political campaigning.

Candidates for office have long been prohibited from engaging in political activities at U.S. military installations or using U.S. military personnel in their political appearances. Presidential campaign staffs generally are very familiar with these military rules.

The stops were part of McCain's "Service to America" tour, which kicked off on Monday and were approved by the Pentagon office of general counsel

With Department of Defense rules prohibiting political campaigning on military bases, it was determined that in some cases McCain could visit the installations as a senator but could not engage in any political activity or have news media present.

McCain campaign officials said Thursday they intentionally did not campaign on military property.

"We follow the rules," said senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt.

Because all three presidential candidates are sitting senators, DoD officials have privately noted for some weeks that the whole matter of drawing the line between Senate business and campaigning is sensitive.

A U.S. Army official told CNN there are no pending requests from any of the campaigns to visit Army bases at this time. He noted that Sen. Barack Obama recently visited Fayetteville, North Carolina, but did not go to Fort Bragg; and Sen. Hillary Clinton visited Killeen, Texas, but did not go to Fort Hood.

For his Wednesday visit to the U.S. Naval Academy -- of which he is a graduate -- McCain was allowed to make a political appearance at the academy's football stadium because it is privately owned property and is not owned or run by the U.S. military.

Earlier in the day, when McCain had breakfast with midshipmen on academy grounds, it was closed to the press and considered a private event. Video Watch McCain speak at the Naval Academy »

The military spokesman points out that any U.S. senator could also request to visit the academy or any military installation.

But the Navy declined a McCain campaign request to speak at the Naval Aviation Museum at the naval base in Pensacola, Florida, because it is a military owned installation and is located on the base, the official said.

McCain did attend an airshow over the weekend at the Navy base in Meridian, Mississippi, because it was open to the general public. But he declined to answer political questions from reporters traveling with him. Video Watch Dana Bash's one-on-one interview with McCain »

In his remarks in Meridian, McCain focused on how his upbringing and his family's military history shaped his views for the future.

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"By all accounts, the McCains of Carroll County were devoted to one another and their traditions; a lively, proud and happy family on the Mississippi Delta," McCain said, describing the area considered his "ancestral home."

McCain, became the presumptive GOP presidential nominee following the March 4 primaries. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

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