FLORENCE, S.C. George W. Bush is seeking to motivate a strong turnout by conservative Republicans in Saturday’s South Carolina primary by, without using the word, labeling John McCain as a hypocrite.
In a bid to offset crossover voting by independents and Democrats, the Texas governor accused the Arizona senator of getting on his “high horse” but campaigning on the “low road” heading into the critical primary.
Mr. McCain has sworn off negative campaigning, but he continues to circulate a false flier, the Texas governor told reporters following a town-hall meeting at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The flier says the Texas governor would “nationalize” education if elected president and would threaten Social Security by spending the entire budget surplus on tax cuts.
“It looks like the Straight Talk Express might have lost a wheel,” Mr. Bush said, making a derisive reference to the recreational vehicle in which Mr. McCain holds rolling news conferences.
“The senator has got to understand he can’t have it both ways,” Mr. Bush said. “He can’t take the high horse and then claim the low road. This is a man who says one thing and does another.”
The Bush campaign is continuing its efforts to get out conservative Republicans, who favor the Texas governor.
Even Mr. McCain agreed that the race now will depend on turnout.
“All the polls show us running dead even,” Mr. McCain said Thursday on the Straight Talk Express, according to wire service reports. “It is all going to depend on turnout now.”
A mailing outlining Mr. Bush’s positions and accusing Mr. McCain of waffling, is being sent to 300,000 voters. Every voter identified as a Bush supporter will receive two telephone calls in the last few days, with self-identified social conservatives receiving a third.
Other efforts include:
* Circulating a glowing letter of endorsement from the commander of the South Carolina National Guard.
* Sending a taped telephone message from Mr. Bush by automatic dial to thousands of households.
* Mailing letters of support from Elizabeth Dole and Laura Bush, the governor’s wife, to young women. Older women are getting a letter from Barbara Bush.
The buzz of activity and tough talk reflects the high stakes in South Carolina’s primary. The victor likely will gain crucial momentum heading into Tuesday’s primaries in Michigan and Arizona.
“If we win here, I don’t see how we can be stopped,” Mr. McCain told reporters earlier Thursday at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Spartanburg.
“It’s a very important race,” Mr. Bush said in Florence. South Carolina “has picked the Republican nominee in the past,” he said, referring to key victories here by his father in 1992 and by Bob Dole in 1996.
Fliers aside, Mr. McCain is trying to project a positive image in his public appearances. On the stump and in a new television ad, he says he has the character and the message to unite conservatives and disaffected Democrats as did Ronald Reagan.
Some of the McCain campaign’s other efforts to appeal to targeted constituencies in the last few days include:
* Postcards to 100,000 previously identified supporters, reminding them to vote, and of their polling place.
* Some 65,000 postcards to veterans in the state, calling them to help with “one last mission” by turning out for Mr. McCain.
* A volunteer “walk” program that will knock on doors on primary day in selected precincts, particularly along the coast, where Mr. McCain’s support is high.
But the McCain campaign is clearly using the issue of negative advertising as an attack in itself. Mr. McCain and his supporters spoke with barely concealed contempt for the Bush campaign.
“There is no place in American politics for this kind of filth and trash and I renounce it,” Mr. McCain told a cheering crowd Thursday at his Columbia headquarters.
He also implicitly criticized pro-Bush Republicans who complain that Democrats and independents will skew the results of the Republican primary by voting.
“I am proud that Democrats and independents are becoming Republicans and flocking to our banner,” he said. “I am proud if they vote for me on Saturday.”
Rep. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and co-chairman of Mr. McCain’s campaign in the state, explicitly attacked Mr. Bush’s style, calling it “the politics of fear.”
“The only reason I can see on TV lately to vote for Governor Bush is fear of John McCain,” he said at the rally.
True to their promise of no open attacks on Mr. Bush, however, the McCain supporters held only pro-McCain signs. No anti-Bush signs were in the crowd of several hundred.
McCain staff, in fact, ran off one man who was holding a hand-lettered sign saying “Can’t Trust Bush.”
“I think Bush is offensive,” said Bob Kunst, a homosexual rights activist from Miami, as he waved his sign from across the street.
Mr. Kunst said his anti-Bush sign is intended to boost Mr. McCain in the South Carolina primary, but should not be considered an endorsement of the Arizona senator.
“I would vote for him to trounce the party power structure, the Christian Right, that’s behind Bush,” he said. “But in the general election, McCain is toast.”
Bush radio ads accuse Mr. McCain of reneging on his pledge to run a positive campaign, of taking money from lobbyists while he pushes campaign finance reform, and of offering a tax cut after he sponsored anti-tobacco legislation that would have boosted taxes by billions of dollars.
State and national pro-life groups are running a radio ad urging abortion foes not to vote for Mr. McCain. A Bush ad says Mr. McCain’s campaign finance reform plan “regulates pro-family groups, but gives Washington union bosses a blank check.”
Mr. McCain last week stopped running a television ad that likened Mr. Bush to President Clinton. But Mr. Bush still seethes at the slight.
“This is the man who on TV equated my integrity and trustworthiness to Bill Clinton,” Mr. Bush said Thursday.
Five polls released this week give Mr. Bush a slight lead, within the margin of error. Mr. Bush led Mr. McCain 45 percent to 42 percent in a survey Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research Inc. released Thursday.
Both campaigns are wary of the polls, because independents and Democrats can vote in the Republican primary. In New Hampshire, independents and Democrats helped carry Mr. McCain to a stunning 19-point victory Feb. 1.
The turnout by independent voters is “one of the uncertainties of this campaign,” Mr. Bush said Thursday.
Saturday, he said, “speculation week” will give way to “reality day.”
In Florence, Mr. Bush answered questions for an hour. He told the overflow crowd in the church’s gymnasium that he will not cede veterans’ votes to Mr. McCain, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
Mr. Bush borrowed much from Mr. McCain’s playbook following his defeat in New Hampshire. He has shortened his stump speech to answer voters’ queries. He pushes his own version of campaign finance reform and terms himself a “reformer with results.”
“I think politics should be a learning process, like life itself,” Mr. Bush told reporters Thursday.
“Whatever lessons I learned when I got knocked down in the snow, I hope will help me be a better candidate and will help me win this primary here in South Carolina.”