McCain coverage in today's Boston Herald : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

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>>> McCain picking up speed in last laps against Bush by Andrew Miga Sunday, February 13, 2000

George W. Bush has counted on South Carolina to serve as his campaign firewall, the reliable GOP Southern stronghold where he could snuff out maverick John McCain's insurgency.

But now, with a frenzied week of campaigning left in the Palmetto State, the South Carolina primary is looking more like a firing line for the besieged Texas governor's presidential hopes.

``It's a dogfight pure and simple,'' said Merle Black, an Emory University political scientist who specializes in the South. ``And McCain seems to have the momentum.''

After his crushing 19-point defeat in New Hampshire, Bush's once-commanding 20-point lead in South Carolina has evaporated while McCain has surged, generating large enthusiastic crowds and climbing in the polls.

A Newsweek poll to be released tomorrow shows the pair locked in a virtual dead heat, with Bush ahead 43 to 40 percent. The outcome may hinge on an influx of non-Republicans entitled to vote in South Carolina's open primary, which allows Democrats and independents to vote. The poll finds 55 percent of independents who plan to participate supporting McCain, to only 30 percent for Bush.

``Once in a generation do you see the kind of surge McCain is enjoying,'' said Republican pollster Linda DiVall. ``He's riding a tremendous surge, but the trick is making it last.''

McCain, with a compelling personal biography as a Vietnam War POW who stubbornly resisted his captors, has stressed character and leadership themes in a new TV ad launched this weekend.

Fearing a voter backlash, McCain scuttled his attack ads against Bush and returned to positive themes more likely to lure the independent-minded voters he needs.

``In Vietnam, John McCain stood up to his communist captors and refused early release from prison,'' says a voice-over in the ad.

Bush, meanwhile, is stoking support among mainline Republicans. ``I'm trying to rally the Republican base and conservative independents,'' he told reporters yesterday while campaigning in South Carolina.

Bush is pumping up the volume, seeking to showcase his record on education and tort reform while touting himself as a ``reformer with a record.''

A lopsided loss could doom McCain's fragile state-by-state candidacy - and give Bush the comeback win he so desperately needs to restore his tarnished front-runner image.

There won't be much time for either candidate to recover from any stumble in South Carolina as the presidential-primary clock accelerates.

Three days after South Carolina, the two men face another stiff fight in Michigan, where despite new polls showing a tight race, Gov. John Engler has rallied the party establishment and promised Bush a victory.

``McCain needs a trifecta - New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan in February - in order to make it to the table in March,'' said DiVall. March 7 is Super Tuesday, when Bush and McCain will face off in 11 states, including Massachusetts, California, Georgia, Ohio and New York.

Voter turnout, several analysts said, will likely be the pivotal factor in South Carolina on Saturday.

``McCain can only succeed if he brings new people into the Republican primary here,'' said Black. ``Bush needs a message for people looking for leadership. That's his real challenge.''

GOP primaries in South Carolina traditionally have been dominated by core Republicans, the party establishment loyalists and activists - so-called ``Country Club Republicans'' - who control the state.

``The Bush people are relying on the core Republican vote, turning out those people,'' said DiVall.

Bush is backed by the state's GOP power structure - the same forces that bailed out Bob Dole's slumping candidacy in 1996 and gave Bush's father a timely win during his bruising 1988 presidential primary campaign.

But some analysts note that South Carolina, like much of the South, has changed radically in recent years with an influx of affluent retirees and thousands of new jobs from large multinational firms like Michelin and BMW attracted by the state's low taxes and lack of unions.

South Carolina is more suburban, more middle class, more high-tech, more secular, more libertarian and more upscale - trends that translate into more independent voters. <<<<

-- Irving (, February 13, 2000


-- Will continue (, February 13, 2000.

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