Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Veterans Key for McCain

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Veterans Key for McCain

Article excerpt

ATLANTA -- In this first post-Monica Lewinsky presidential election cycle, voters are casting an especially critical eye toward the character of the nation's next would-be leader.

In that climate, U.S. Sen. John McCain, a Navy pilot held as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for 5 1/2 years, has a compelling story to tell.

That story, as described by the Arizona Republican in his new book Faith of Our Fathers, appeals particularly to veterans, who are becoming an important focus of his bid to overtake Texas Gov. George W. Bush and capture the GOP presidential nomination.

Conveniently for McCain, New Hampshire and South Carolina, states with substantial concentrations of veterans, hold the first two Republican primaries in February. Georgia, with its large active-service and military-retiree populations, follows with its primary on March 7.

"McCain has been there," said Lyn Dimery, senior vice commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in South Carolina, where the senator has made frequent appearances before veterans groups. "He knows our situation. He would restore what we need."

Veterans historically have been a politically active group, but the stakes have grown higher in recent years as military pay has lagged behind the civilian sector and federal budget cuts have forced the closing of veterans hospitals across the country.

As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain sponsored a 4.8 percent military pay raise this year, a fact he has pointed out to numerous groups of veterans. But it's his experience in Vietnam more than his positions on issues that's most appealing to veterans at a gut level, said John Cavanaugh, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina.

"His strongest card, clearly, is his life story, his POW status and his book recounting that," Cavanaugh said. "That plays well in South Carolina, which is patriotic and strong on defense."

New Hampshire and South Carolina are important states for McCain to win if his uphill campaign against the far better funded Bush is to build momentum for the primaries to come. …

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