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McCain Braces for Tough Campaign in S.C.

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to supporters during a campaign stop in Lake Wylie, S.C., on Wednesday.
Mark Wilson
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Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) speaks to supporters during a campaign stop in Lake Wylie, S.C., on Wednesday.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is in South Carolina — where he leads in the polls by a handful of points. The state's Republicans vote in their primary on Saturday.

At a campaign rally Thursday afternoon in Columbia, S.C., McCain spoke to some of his supporters.

"I promise you I will lead America in the 21st century and make you proud," McCain said to the gathering.

"I will restore your trust and confidence in government, and I will lead this nation in the challenge against radical Islamic extremism, and we will never surrender — they will. I promise you that — they will."

Despite his second-place finish in Michigan, McCain remains confident about his prospects in South Carolina, even among social conservatives, many of whom disagree with him on issues such as immigration.

"In New Hampshire, we were able to get the support of Republicans from all parts of the party, I'm sure we will do that in South Carolina, and we'll win," McCain tells Michele Norris.

In particular, he believes that his strong stance on national security and against radical Islamic extremism will help him with social conservatives.

McCain says he is continuing his strategy of "straight talk" on the loss of U.S. jobs and future economic prospects.

"Voters are smart. They're not uninformed," McCain says. "I can't tell [people] that buggy whip factories will be built nor haberdasheries. But I can tell them that in this new technology revolution we're in, there's going to be plenty of jobs and plenty of opportunities for some of the most productive workers in America."

As McCain returns to the Palmetto State, he is braced for a repeat of his last presidential campaign in the state in 2000, in which he faced an onslaught of negative campaigning. Already, there is evidence that opponents are circulating rumors and promoting push polling to focus on the senator's first divorce and his record of supporting veterans.

McCain says he thinks this is happening to him because South Carolina is pivotal in the nominating process — historically, the state has been the most reliable barometer in forecasting the GOP nominee — and he currently leads the polls.

But he is quick to point out that negative campaigning is not what caused him to lose the South Carolina primary to George W. Bush in 2000 — and it won't keep him from winning in 2008.

"The reason why I lost in 2000 is then-Gov. Bush had a solid financial and political base here. It wasn't because of the very, frankly, offensive stuff that went on. It was that he had the political machine behind him and the finances and did a better campaign," McCain says, adding that he currently has a very strong financial and political base in the state.

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