- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2000

Arizona Sen. John McCain appears to have lost his post-New Hampshire momentum in South Carolina, according to the latest polls.

A Newsweek poll conducted Wednesday through Friday puts Texas Gov. George W. Bush ahead of Mr. McCain 43 percent to 40 percent among likely voters in Saturday's Republican primary.

An American Research Group poll last week also found Mr. Bush ahead of Mr. McCain in South Carolina. The same poll had Mr. McCain ahead immediately after the New Hampshire primary, as did a Feb. 2-3 Zogby poll.

The momentum shift in favor of the Texas governor stems from a changed Bush strategy in the middle of last week, when Mr. Bush began to pound what some see as Mr. McCain's vulnerabilities and try to undermine his claim to be a straight-talking reformer.

"John has lost some of his momentum," state Sen. Tracey Edge, a McCain backer, said in an interview.

The apparent Bush comeback also stems from redoubled efforts in South Carolina.

Cindy Costa, a Republican national committeewoman from the state, said the Bush campaign was a bit late in mustering all its firepower in South Carolina and only fully opened an office in Charleston on Thursday.

"We set up an office in Charleston, which [the Bush campaign] hadn't planned to do," she said, adding that the Bush campaign has begun shipping in yard signs to the office and has sent "people from Washington" to help.

"We're all working as hard as if we were 10 points behind [Mr. McCain]," she said.

Mr. Bush also has energized his campaign with feisty counterattacks in TV ads, on the stump and in interviews that make him look like he really wants the nomination.

"Bush's negative stuff against McCain had an initial boost for Bush," said Dee Workman Benedict, a Christian Coalition board member in South Carolina and formerly a Steve Forbes supporter who has switched to Mr. McCain.

Meanwhile, some McCain supporters say a television ad comparing Mr. Bush to President Clinton backfired.

On Friday, Mr. McCain dropped the ad that accused Mr. Bush of "twisting the truth like Clinton" by distorting the Arizona senator's record and position on campaign-finance reform and taxes.

"I think McCain made a critical mistake with that ad," said Mr. Edge, the McCain supporter.

"McCain stopped the positive image he was giving of himself and resorted to tactics that, well, whether they're negative or not is in the eye of the beholder," Mr. Edge said. "It's not a backlash against McCain running negative ads, but once he began that ad, he got off the [positive, reform] message that resonated in New Hampshire."

Still, a new poll of likely Michigan voters suggests Mr. Bush could be in trouble in Michigan if he doesn't win South Carolina by more than a slim margin.

A Detroit News survey released yesterday found Mr. McCain leading Mr. Bush 43 percent to 34 percent among voters likely to participate in the Feb. 22 Republican presidential primary. Mr. McCain led Mr. Bush 57 percent to 21 percent among independents, but Mr. Bush led 44-33 among Republicans.

Exit polling four years ago showed about a third of those who voted in the Michigan primary were independents or Democrats. About one-third of the people sampled in the latest Detroit News poll were not Republicans, but said they planned to vote in the Republican primary.

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