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McCain's next target: South Carolina

by Mike Ferullo/CNN

February 1, 2000
Web posted at: 10:47 p.m. EST (0347 GMT)

MANCHESTER, New Hampshire (CNN) -- Elated and surprised after scoring a huge double-digit victory in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, Sen. John McCain of Arizona rallied supporters to a "national crusade" as his battle with Texas Gov. George W. Bush for the GOP presidential nomination heads toward a key February 19 primary in South Carolina.

Welcome to our 115th town hall meeting in New Hampshire," McCain quipped to a packed house of chanting supporters in the ballroom of Crowne Plaza Hotel in Nashua. "I think we have a poll without a margin of error."

McCain
Sen. John McCain won the New Hampshire GOP primary Tuesday.  

The Arizona senator picked up a boost of last-minute momentum in weekend campaigning that lifted him to a decisive victory over Bush, while the three other GOP hopefuls -- Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Gary Bauer, lagged far behind.

"We have sent a powerful message to Washington that change is coming," he said. "It's the beginning of the end, because the Republican Party has recovered its heritage of reform."

"For over a year we talked about this moment," said McCain, who promised to repair the government's "breech with Americans" through his commitment to campaign finance reform, shoring up Social Security and Medicare and paying down the national debt.

"The wonderful New Hampshire campaign has come to an end, but a great national crusade has begun," he said. "In the weeks and months ahead, I may say things you may not want to hear, things you don't want to here, but you will always hear the truth no matter what."

Bush agreed that Tuesday's results were more of a beginning than an end. The national GOP front-runner seemed resigned to a lengthy duel as he appeared before supporters in Manchester on Monday night.

"New Hampshire has long been known as a bump in the road for front-runners," Bush told supporters in Manchester. "This year is no exception. The road to the Republican nomination and the White House is a long road, mine will go through all 50 states and I intend it to end at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bush
Gov. George W. Bush spoke Tuesday conceding defeat to McCain.  

"We fought the good fight and I'm proud of our support and I'm proud of the campaign we conducted here," said Bush, who characterized himself as a "better candidate for coming to New Hampshire.

The Texas governor said the McCain's attack "came from the left," but pledged a renewed commitment to his campaign theme of "compassionate conservatism" by cutting tax rates, improving education and saving Social Security and Medicare.

Although the Texas governor remains the choice of the party establishment, McCain's victory may very well raise questions about Bush's viability as a national candidate. The Texas governor predicted a better finish next time around, declaring that "South Carolina is Bush country."

Both Bush and McCain planned to leave New Hampshire late Tuesday for South Carolina. The Arizona senator was scheduled to hold an early Wednesday morning rally with supporters at Greenville Airport.

Decision time for back of the pack

New Hampshire has a history of weeding out the also-rans; conventional wisdom has dictated that if you can't win -- or at least place -- in the Granite State, you won't anywhere else.

Publisher Steve Forbes -- who garnered 31 percent of the vote en route to a second-place Iowa finish -- had hoped for a another solid showing, but faced stiff competition from Alan Keyes and Bauer for a smaller number of social conservatives in New Hampshire.

Forbes
Steve Forbes: "Make no mistake. This fight has just begun."  

Forbes finished with just 13 percent of the vote this time around, while Keyes, who won a respectable 14 percent of the Iowa vote, received 6 percent of the vote. Bauer garnered less than 1 percent of the New Hampshire vote after a 7-percent Iowa finish.

Unfazed by equally unpromising support in national polls, Forbes vowed to press on with his largely self-financed campaign. "I make this appeal to those who may have backed others because of inevitability. I plead with you, please come home," he said.

"Make no mistake: This fight has just begun."

Bauer, who served as a domestic policy advisor in the Reagan Administration, also tried his best to put a positive spin on Tuesday's results.

"We are in a race against the son of a president, the son of an admiral and a son of a tycoon, Bauer told supporters. "I am the son of a janitor and we will fight the good fight."

But he also told reporters he would return to his campaign headquarters near Washington on Wednesday, instead of heading on to South Carolina or another early primary state.

"My plan is to go all the way to the convention, but after each stop you have to assess your strategy," Bauer said. "I'm a fighter but I'm not delusional. We'll take it a day at a time," he said.

The Road Ahead

It is widely assumed that if McCain has any chance of winning the Republican nomination, he must parlay his New Hampshire win into a very strong showing in the February 19 South Carolina primary. His campaign was ready Tuesday with plans for an intensive post-New Hampshire fundraising effort.

Their candidate's journey from obscurity to contender came about with a relentless focus on New Hampshire. He skipped the Iowa caucuses to focus almost exclusively on New Hampshire and had the state virtually to himself while his competitors were nearly 2000 miles away.

In the early days of the New Hampshire race, McCain was a virtual unknown who registered a mere three percent in the polls. His campaign gradually gained momentum after spending more than 70 days here -- twice as many as George W. Bush -- as well as about $2 million in television ads.

McCain, a former Navy pilot and Vietnam prisoner of war, launched a special appeal to South Carolina's large veteran population months ago, and made a number of appearances in the Palmetto State.

"Everybody knows if we win here and in South Carolina, we become very, very, very important," McCain said earlier Tuesday.

His task is a formidable one.

As in most states, Bush has locked up the support of most of South Carolina's leading Republicans, including former Gov. Carroll Campbell. South Carolina also has a history of backing the GOP establishment candidate; Bush's father, former President George Bush, considered South Carolina to be part of a "southern firewall" in his successful 1988 campaign.

ELECTION 2000
Bush, Bradley win early vote in Dixville Notch (2-01-00)

One day before the New Hampshire primary, candidates seek to sway voters (1-31-00)

GOP candidates on final swing through New Hampshire before Tuesday's primary (1-31-00)

Democratic rivals focus on voters for Tuesday's New Hampshire primary (1-31-00)

Final tracking poll shows McCain, Gore with solid leads (1-31-00)

NHPrimary.com: Record turnout forecast for New Hampshire primary (1-31-00)

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