Monday, October 18, 2004

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The two candidates vying to fill South Carolina’s open Senate seat both pledged yesterday to fully arm U.S. troops in Iraq, as the Army investigates the refusal of a South Carolina-based platoon to go on a convoy mission because its trucks were unarmored.

Rep. Jim DeMint said the refusal of the 18 reservists in the 343rd Quartermaster Company last week to deliver fuel in trucks they considered unsafe illustrates the need for sufficient equipment to win the war.

But Mr. DeMint, a Republican, questioned the support of his opponent, Democrat Inez Tenenbaum, for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, who voted against a bill in the Senate last year seeking $87 billion in funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It does bring out how important it is that we give the president the money to have the equipment, resources, the body armor,” Mr. DeMint, a three-term congressman, said during a debate with Mrs. Tenenbaum yesterday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“And that’s one of the reasons that we have to worry about my opponent’s support of John Kerry, because that is exactly the problem we’re having,” he added.

Mrs. Tenenbaum, the state’s education superintendent, said she disagrees with Mr. Kerry’s vote on the funding bill and said President Bush was right to oust Saddam Hussein, even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found.

“We needed to remove Saddam Hussein. He had killed thousands of people. He had had weapons of mass destruction that he used against the Kurds and the Iranians. He had invaded Kuwait. He tried to assassinate a United States president,” she said.

If elected, Mrs. Tenenbaum also said she would fight to give the troops the equipment they need.

The candidates are in a tight race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ernest F. Hollings, who has held the seat for nearly 40 years.

Mr. DeMint is considered the front-runner, but he has watched the polls tighten in recent weeks after saying that homosexuals and unwed, pregnant women are unfit to be public-school teachers.

He refused yesterday to answer whether he stood by those comments. Instead, he apologized again for talking about an issue that he said should be left up to local school boards.

Mrs. Tenenbaum has called Mr. DeMint’s comments un-American.

Mr. DeMint also stood by his proposal to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service in exchange for a national sales tax. He said he would support exceptions or refunds to help low-income people pay the tax on food and other goods.

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