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Updated Mar 22, 2014 - 2:06 pm

Clintons, McCain take stage at Arizona State conference

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Bill and Hillary Clinton teamed up with Arizona Sen. John McCain at the start of an annual meeting of college students on Friday, putting on stage a former president, a onetime Republican presidential nominee and perhaps a future White House candidate.

The former secretary of state, who is considering a White House campaign, opened the Clinton Global Initiative University at Arizona State University by encouraging students to use their talents and skills to solve problems both big and small.

"We are going to make sure the millennial generation really is the participation generation," Clinton said to cheers.

As the former first lady and New York senator weighs a presidential campaign, the summit of students brought together plenty of political wattage. Mr. Clinton, who served two terms in the White House, moderated a panel on civic participation that featured McCain, who sought the presidency in 2000 and 2008, losing in his second campaign to Barack Obama.

The former president used the occasion to needle the Republican lawmaker, joking that McCain was a "good friend of Hillary's and mine, although we permit him to deny it at election time."

During a discussion of the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine, McCain returned the favor, crediting Clinton for his decision to intervene in Bosnia during his presidency.

"I think you made the right decisions," McCain said.

More than 1,000 students representing about 300 colleges and universities gathered for the weekend conference. Participating students pledge to carry out service projects and ventures aimed at addressing problems across the globe. Policy sessions on the agenda included ways of improving health care, immigrant and refugee rights and the environment.

But beyond the altruism, presidential politics wasn't far from the surface.

Bill Clinton was the last Democrat to win Arizona since Harry Truman in 1948. Obama's re-election campaign considered an aggressive push here because of the state's influx of Latinos and young voters but decided to focus on more competitive states. Many Democrats say the state could be a battleground in 2016, when the former first lady could be at the top of the ticket.

During their panel discussion, McCain sought to make light of his own presidential campaign, thanking the former president for "mentioning I ran for president."

"After I lost, I slept like a baby," McCain joked. "Sleep two hours, wake up and cry. Sleep two hours, wake up and cry."

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