February 4, 2000 -- After a convincing win in New Hampshire, Arizona Senator John McCain turns to the next step of his presidential primary strategy: winning South Carolina.
McCain skipped both the Iowa caucuses and August's straw poll, gambling instead on New Hampshire -- and its independents -- to provide a much-needed boost against Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who leads in the national polls and has tens of millions of dollars more in campaign funds.
Bush, as polls predicted, won in Iowa on Jan. 24, while McCain placed a distant fifth.
A week later, Bush lost the New Hampshire primary in double-digits and McCain proclaimed, "We've interfered with the coronation."
"The Texas governor, enthroned months ago as the strong favorite for the nomination on the basis of his many endorsements and his bulging bank account has not yet performed up to expectations at the ballot box," wrote David Broder in the Washington Post on Feb. 2. "He defeated Steve Forbes, who has never been elected to public office, by only 11 points in the Jan. 24 Iowa caucuses and now has been humbled in his first confrontation with McCain, who bypassed Iowa."
But South Carolina may be a different story. Unlike New Hampshire, where the insurgent candidate has traditionally done well, South Carolina will reward the party favorite.
The South Carolina "Firewall"
Bush strategist Karl Rove told the Washington Post that South Carolina "will provide a 'firewall' of protection for [Bush], just as it did in 1992 and 1996, when unexpectedly strong showings in the New Hampshire primary by Patrick J. Buchanan temporarily derailed the nomination strategies of two eventual winners, first President George Bush and then Sen. Robert Dole."
In hopes of repeating that performance, Bush has made sure he enters the South Carolina race with the endorsements of most influential state figures including U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond and former Gov. Carroll Campbell.
The New York Times theorized that Bush and his strategists will call New Hampshire's "outcome as the work of independents rather than genuine Republicans." Independents, the state's largest voting bloc, can participate in the New Hampshire primary by choosing a party at the election site.
McCain, meanwhile, hopes his decisive New Hampshire victory will boost his standing in the polls. In January, McCain had trailed Bush in South Carolina by 20 percent, but two polls released this week have the Arizona Senator pulling even with or passing Bush.
Lee Bandy, the political correspondent for The State in Columbia, S.C., outlined what McCain must do to win in his state in a January column: "To win, he must capture 30 percent of the regular Republican primary vote, get a huge turnout in the veteran community, attract a number of reform-minded independents and get conservative Democrats."
The question is whether he can do that. He has received the support of two popular local politicians, U.S. Reps. Lindsey Graham and Mark Sanford, but the results will not be known until the 19th.