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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 hopefuls.

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 fund-raising numbers.

"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 nasty."

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 politics.

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 defense.

"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 victory.

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.

Reuters news material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.


Thursday, February 3, 2000

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