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Townsend chooses ex-Republican as running mate

Townsend and Larson join hands during a rally in Annapolis on Thursday.  

From Bert Kaufman and Robert Yoon
CNN Washington Bureau

ANNAPOLIS, Maryland (CNN) -- In a move that could appeal to independent and Republican voters, Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, D-Maryland, has tapped retired Navy Adm. Charles Larson, a former Republican, as her running mate in her bid for the governor's office.

"To deal with our post 9/11 world, there is no one more uniquely qualified to work with me and our first responders to safeguard Maryland than Admiral Larson," Townsend said during a rally Thursday in Annapolis.

Larson, who until last month had been a registered Republican, was once the roommate of Republican Senator John McCain. The two met in 1954 when they were midshipmen at the Naval Academy. They graduated together in 1958.

Larson later served as Naval Academy superintendent in the 1980s and was asked to return a decade later to help restore the school's reputation in the wake of highly publicized cheating scandals.

"Over the years, I've watched the Republican Party drift farther and farther to the right, and I've become increasingly uncomfortable," said Larson.

McCain told CNN that he regrets Larson's decision to switch parties, but added, "I'm glad he's still willing to serve. I think it's a smart move on her part."

Townsend's likely Republican opponent, Rep. Robert Ehrlich, has narrowed his choice for running mate to two and will announce his final selection Monday, according to his campaign.

"Bob has always honored the tradition of not stomping on someone else's day. Today is their day. Monday will be Bob's," said Shareese N. DeLeaver, an Ehrlich spokeswoman.

Ehrlich had considered offering the spot to a Democrat, state school superintendent Nancy Grasmick, but she publicly turned down the position last week.

Townsend is the eldest daughter of the late Sen. Robert Kennedy. She has served as lieutenant governor since 1995.

--CNN Political Editor John Mercurio contributed to this report.




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