AIKEN - If Republican candidate John McCain ascends to the presidency of the United States, it will be heartfelt believers such as Neal and Lucy Dillon who get him there.
The Aiken couple lost their son, Marine Cpl. Matthew Dillon, to an improvised explosive device in Iraq on Dec. 11. Although Mr. Dillon's eyes were tear-rimmed when he spoke in favor of Mr. McCain, a Vietnam veteran, during the Aiken leg of the Arizona senator's No Surrender tour, his voice was determined.
"Don't leave here and say, 'We had a nice breakfast and got to meet John McCain,'" he pleaded to the 180-member crowd at VFW Post 5877. "You need to leave here and work for him.
"John McCain is the only candidate, Republican or Democrat, that knows the sadness of sacrifice."
Mr. McCain has staked his presidential aspirations on the hope that he get American voters to believe in his plan to keep troops in Iraq - at a time when public opinion polls show a low-level of support for such a proposal.
"Americans don't want us to fail," Mr. McCain said. "They want us to succeed. If you can show them success, then I believe their patience will be extended."
To that end, Gen. David Petraeus' report to Congress last week that the troop surge has been somewhat successful in Iraq helps Mr. McCain's chances, Winthrop University political scientist Scott Huffmon said.
But Dr. Huffmon sees warning signs for the campaign as well.
"I've now seen people giving specific reasons why they disagree with him, and that's the definition of soft support," Dr. Huffmon said.
In a Los Angeles Times-Bloomberg poll released last week, in the early primary/caucus states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, Mr. McCain trailed the front-runner by 21, 16 and 11 percent, respectively, among GOP voters.