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Fighting for South Carolina, GOP candidates talk national security

February 16, 2016 at 6:45 PM EST
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a campaign event on the USS Yorktown in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina February 16, 2016.      REUTERS/Joshua Roberts - RTX277RH
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GWEN IFILL: The candidates who would be president are targeting two groups of potential voters today, Democrat and Republican, in South Carolina.

Political director Lisa Desjardins reports.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), Republican Presidential Candidate: I’m the conservative that is going to be rebuild the U.S. military.

LISA DESJARDINS: Republicans fighting for South Carolina have learned fast the people of the Palmetto State like to talk security. In Columbia, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s latest swing at Donald Trump was about readiness to command.

FORMER GOV. JEB BUSH (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: I guess he think he can use his real estate skills to somehow magically bring to life the weapons system necessary to keep our war fighters safe, that magically we will have an army of 490,000, that magically we will find 15,000 more Marines.

LISA DESJARDINS: For the moment, South Carolina is the GOP front line, with candidates in 13 different cities today, that across a state with a huge veterans population and more than half-a-dozen military bases.

As for front-runner Donald Trump, he called up an Iraq War veteran to the stage in North Augusta today. Trump has been blasting Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, for the war and for 9/11, and he did it again last night.

DONALD TRUMP (R), Republican Presidential Candidate: Ever ask yourself why his brother went silent for all these years? No, don’t ask yourself that.

LISA DESJARDINS: And count Ted Cruz in on the security talk, calling for a larger active-duty military.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TX), Republican Presidential Candidate: The nation must be prepared for the possibility of multiple near-simultaneous conflicts, instead of the force that is, according to the previous secretary of the Army, teetering on the ragged edge of military readiness.

LISA DESJARDINS: A few miles away in Summerville, Marco Rubio was more relaxed.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The mosquito’s the state bird?

(LAUGHTER)

LISA DESJARDINS: The Florida senator put a new twist on the Obama attack that tripped him up in the past.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Barack Obama, at the risk of repeating myself, knows exactly what he’s doing. Was Obamacare an accident or on purpose?

AUDIENCE: On purpose.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Was Dodd-Frank an accident or on purpose?

AUDIENCE: On purpose.

LISA DESJARDINS: Democrats today? A different theme. In Columbia, Bernie Sanders made his case to black voters, who form a majority of the state’s Democrats.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (VT-I), Democratic Presidential Candidate: Change takes place from the bottom on up when people begin to stir.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Dr. King was clearly one of the great leaders in American history. But it wasn’t him alone. It was thousands and thousands of African-Americans and their white allies.

LISA DESJARDINS: Hillary Clinton too was courting black voters, but in New York. She sat down with leaders of the National Urban League.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), Democratic Presidential Candidate: My campaign really is about breaking every barrier, because I believe absolutely that America can’t live up to its potential unless every single person has the chance to live up to theirs.

LISA DESJARDINS: Notably, neither of the Democrats made a stop today in Nevada, even though that’s where their next contest will be, this Saturday. It’s the same day that Republicans vote in South Carolina.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Lisa Desjardins.

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