Surging McCain says he can win in South Carolina
By John Whitesides/REUTERS
February 3, 2000
Web posted at: 5:43 p.m. EST (2243 GMT)
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A surging John McCain said
Thursday he was convinced he could score another upset over
Texas Gov. George W. Bush in South Carolina as a new poll showed
him moving ahead of the front-runner.
With donations rolling in to McCain's Internet site and
large, enthusiastic crowds meeting him at every stop, the
Arizona senator said his campaign was on a roll since his big
win Tuesday in New Hampshire.
"That's given us a bounce and convinced me we can win
here," he told an overflow crowd outside an antebellum mansion
in Beaufort, South Carolina.
A new Zogby poll showed McCain, who had been trailing Bush
by 20 percentage points or more in polls before New Hampshire,
moving into a five-point lead among likely voters in the Feb. 19
primary, the next big test for the Republican presidential
A victory in South Carolina over the anointed front-runner
could turn the race upside down and smash the aura of
invincibility Bush had built up during months of scoring
endorsements by the Republican establishment and huge
"This is showing that the whole Republican race is shifting
our way," McCain strategist Mike Murphy told reporters. "Now
we have a race."
Referring to Bush's comments that the New Hampshire outcome
had been a "bump in the road," McCain said: "I'm telling you,
my friends, it was a landmine."
But he warned supporters not to place too much faith in the
new poll, saying the numbers could bounce up and down and
adding: "This is going to be a tough fight. It may get a little
McCain aides and supporters have said they expect the
Republican establishment and special-interest groups to go after
McCain, who has centered his campaign around a reform theme that
attacks special interests in Washington and big-money in
McCain aides said his Internet site had raised $776,000
since the New Hampshire victory, with 80 percent of that
eligible for federal matching funds.
McCain, a Vietnam veteran who spent 5 1/2 years in a Hanoi
prison camp, courted support from South Carolina's
450,000-strong population of veterans and active military
personnel. He stressed his military experience and foreign
policy expertise at several campaign stops Thursday along the
Atlantic coast of South Carolina, and criticized President
Clinton's handling of foreign affairs.
"This administration conducts foreign policy as social
work," he said, dispatching troops around the world whenever
there is a problem. He lamented there were no military veterans
between the president, secretary of state and secretary of
"I am fully prepared to be commander in chief," said
McCain, who was greeted in Charleston by the former commander of
U.S. troops in Vietnam, Gen. William Westmoreland. "I don't
need on-the-job training."
McCain said it was "foolishness" for Bush to have veterans
take shots at his record of support on defense issues.
At a South Carolina rally for Bush earlier in the day, Tom
Burch of the National Vietnam and Gulf War Veterans Coalition, a
federation of 102 veterans groups, introduced Bush and
criticized McCain's voting record on military issues in the
Senate, noting he had voted against compensation for victims of
Agent Orange and other matters.
Shortly after South Carolina votes, the campaign enters a
coast-to-coast sprint with several multiple-primary days that
will favor Bush's fund-raising and organizational advantages
unless McCain can change the race's dynamic with another upset
But McCain is no longer willing to concede anything and
aides said a South Carolina win would put them in the driver's
seat in the race, with the next challenges coming the following
week in McCain's home state of Arizona and in Michigan.
McCain plans to head to California Friday, with stops in
Arizona and Michigan before returning to South Carolina Tuesday.
Meanwhile, McCain wrote to Bill Powers, chairman of the New
York Republican State Committee, and New York Gov. George
Pataki, also a Republican, appealing for them Thursday to "do
the right thing" and open up the state's primary ballot.
McCain has been blocked from getting on the ballot in some
congressional districts under New York's byzantine primary
rules, which are being challenged in federal court.