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McCain calls Jeffords' switch lesson for GOP

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A stinging rebuke from another prominent Republican quickly followed Sen. James Jeffords' departure Thursday from the GOP.

In a written statement, Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, blamed "short-sighted party operatives" whom he accused of targeting Jeffords.

"Perhaps those self-appointed enforcers of party loyalty will learn to respect honorable differences among us, learn to disagree without resorting to personal threats, and recognize that we are a party large enough to accommodate something short of strict unanimity on the issues of the day," said McCain.

"Tolerance of dissent is the hallmark of a mature party, and it is well past time for the Republican Party to grow up," he added.

McCain, who has clashed with both the party and the Bush administration, praised Jeffords for basing his votes on something other than politics.

"Despite occasional policy differences between us, I have long respected Jim Jeffords' integrity, and his conscientious service to his constituents and to the nation," said McCain.

Jeffords' party switch was applauded by supporters in his home state, and some voiced hopes it would start a trend.

"I think the rest of the country is getting a little bit better picture of what it is to be a Vermonter," John Alexander told The Associated Press. "He's voting his conscience. I just wish the rest of the Congress was like that."

Longtime Republican activist and Rutland lawyer Arthur Crowley told The Associated Press he would stick with Jeffords.

"This issue is based solely on Jim's moderate political philosophy and what he thinks is best for Vermont," said Crowley, a former county and state GOP committee chairman.

"I will agree with whatever decision he makes," Crowley said. "He has always represented us well in Washington, and I'm sure he will continue to do so."

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