North Augusta -- John McCain says George W. Bush has violated their mutual pledge not to go negative as they campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, but promised to give the Texas governor tit for tat in his drive to win the crucial South Carolina primary.
"We used to be buddies, now he calls me a hypocrite and stands beside a man who said I have abandoned veterans. We'll hit back and we'll hit harder than we have been hit," said the Republican U.S. senator from Arizona Tuesday in North Augusta.
Accompanied by his wife, Cindy, and South Carolina Congressmen Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, Mr. McCain's "Straight Talk Express" rolled into North Augusta shortly after 8 a.m. There to meet him in the North Augusta Community Center was an overflowing crowd of Republicans, independents, and Democrats drawn to the GOP contender.
These are the voters who have helped to narrow the gap between the maverick Republican and the frontrunner. According to an ABC-Washington Post poll released Monday, Mr. Bush still leads Mr. McCain by 48 to 43 percent but the margin for error is 4.5 percent, making the race a dead heat. Nationally, a CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll taken Feb. 1 shows Mr. Bush at 56 percent to Mr. McCain's 34 percent. This represents a considerable gain in the standings over a poll taken on Jan. 24, just after the Iowa caucuses, that showed Mr. Bush with a 56 to 16 percent lead over Mr.McCain.
The senator opened his campaign in North Augusta with a direct pitch to area veterans whom he asked to stand. They made up an estimated one-third of the audience.
"About 30 thousand World War II veterans are dying each year without the health care benefits promised them. I promise you, I'll change that," he said. "And when I'm elected president we'll have no food stamp army. The all-volunteer force hasn't failed us. We have failed the all-volunteer force," he added that about 12,000 enlisted men and women had to go on food stamps to help feed their families.