Bluffton, South Carolina (CNN)Donald Trump's visit to this state dotted with military bases is emerging as a test of whether the billionaire businessman's controversial comments about John McCain's status as a war hero will seriously damage his campaign.
Veterans sound off on Trump
Veterans who attended a campaign event at a retirement community here expressed support for many of Trump's positions but said the McCain controversy went too far.
"I'm here to support Donald Trump but he's on probation now because of his comments about McCain. They were out of order. Simply out of order," Jim Bacon, an 81-year-old Korean War veteran who served in the Marine Corp, told CNN. "I truly was dumbfounded. And very disappointed."
Another retired veteran, Helmut Pfab, said he was interested in getting to know Trump better but that he did not agree with the real estate mogul's remarks about McCain.
"I do not know McCain personally, he's a politician, but that was not right, what he said," Pfab, 79, said. "Veterans -- of course they are offended by what he said."
Trump set off a firestorm on Saturday when he said that McCain, a Vietnam War veteran who was held captive for more than five years, was a "war hero because he was captured."
"I like people that weren't captured, OK?" Trump said, setting off immediate and widespread condemnation.
He has since sought to partially walk back the remarks, saying that he believed McCain was, in fact, a "war hero," but that he was disappointed in the Arizona senator's work in Washington on behalf of veterans. But the comments have already left a deep impression among some voters here who were offended by Trump's decision to go after a veteran's military service.
Tuesday marked Trump's first visit to the Palmetto State since launching his presidential campaign last month. He postponed an earlier trip in the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting at a historic African-American church in Charleston.
South Carolina — a state with a sizable veterans community and large military bases — is also home to a significant number of evangelicals. McCain won the state in 2008, in part by placing strong emphasis on his Vietnam service and his connection with the veterans community.
Lindsey Graham, a Republican senator from the state, is one of many in the crowded GOP field vying for the party's 2016 nomination. A leader within his party on national security and military issues, as well as a close friend of McCain's, Graham has spoken out harshly against Trump's comments.
Former State House Speaker David Wilkins, a Republican, said if the backlash from Trump's comments on McCain would be obvious anywhere in the country, it would be in South Carolina.
"I think they're unacceptable throughout our country but probably even more so in South Carolina because we have such a strong military background and tradition," Wilkins, a Graham supporter, said. "We are very much a patriotic state so any comment that's derogatory towards one of our veterans -- towards our POWs -- is not well-received in South Carolina."
Former South Carolina Gov. Jim Hodges, a Democrat, predicted that Trump's comments about McCain would hurt him in the long-term by sending the message that he is unfit to be the country's commander-in-chief.
"They're not a lot single issue veteran voters but I think people are offended by a comment that belittles the service of someone who not only served in the military but also was a prisoner of war," Hodges said. "How can this man effectively serve as commander in chief when he belittles the service of a decorated veteran?"
Other veterans in the room were happy to give Trump a pass on his McCain comments. Bob Hansz, a former law enforcement official who served in the Vietnam War, said he himself "never considered (McCain) a war hero."
"I think we use the term 'war hero' a little too loosely in the country," Hansz, 70, said. "I'm a vet. I killed Vietnamese. I'm no war hero."