SHOW: CNN CROSSFIRE 16:30
February 3, 2004 Tuesday
HEADLINE: Seven-State Showdown
GUESTS: Mark Sanford, James Clyburn, Jennifer Palmieri
BYLINE: Robert Novak, Paul Begala
Is today do-or-die time for Senator John Edwards and the rest of the Democratic presidential pack? And will this be the day Senator John Kerry's candidacy becomes inevitable?
NOVAK: South Carolina regularly went for Democratic presidential candidates up through John F. Kennedy. It's only made that terrible mistake one time since, in 1976, when fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter was an unknown quantity. Is this great state, the Palmetto State, a lock for President George W. Bush?
Let's ask the governor, Republican Mark Sanford.
Governor, good to see you again.
GOV. MARK SANFORD (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Pleased to be with you.
BEGALA: Thank you for having us in your state and on your Capitol ground.
SANFORD: Glad you're here. Glad you're here.
BEGALA: Congressman Clyburn from South Carolina was here a moment ago and suggested that this issue of whether then Lieutenant Bush fulfilled his Alabama National Guard duties could be a very important issue here in South Carolina.
"The Washington Post" wrote about it today, but the definitive work was done by "The Boston Globe." And here's -- here's an expert from what they reported: "In his final 18 months of military service in 1972 and 1973, Bush did not fly at all. And, for a full year, there is no record that he showed up for the periodic drills required of part-time Guardsmen."
The evidence is voluminous and it is conclusive that Mr. Bush never showed up for his Guard duty in Alabama. Is that going to be a problem here in such a patriotic state?
SANFORD: A, I would agree with the hypothesis, or the premise, that it is a very patriotic state. If you look at the number of veterans per capita, you look at number of military bases in South Carolina, phenomenal military presence.
And I think that what those retirees, what those active-duty folks and what the families associated with both think about is, what are you going to do for the military? And, on that front, I think George Bush will win resoundingly. You look at his budget. You look at what he's focused on during his time in office. There's been a very strong backing for the United States military.
I think that's going to be an issue that counts.
SANFORD: And I think, in some ways, what has gone on with this chatter back and forth, if it's hurt anybody, it's hurt Kerry, because you look at where Kerry's been strong, it's been on the coast. Edwards has been strong in the upper states.
Kerry's numbers have weakened over the last day, I think in part because of this flame-up.
BEGALA: Is that right?
NOVAK: Governor Sanford, on the Lehrer "News Hour" last night, they showed a clip of several South Carolina mill owners, all of whom had supported President Bush for election in 2000. And they asked a show of hands how many of them support him this time. Only one raised their hand.
Is there a problem because of job loss in South Carolina with people who would normally vote Republican in this state?
SANFORD: Well, you know, is there a job problem in South Carolina? Yes, as there is, frankly, in many other states in the South that have been impacted by globalization.
The Internet has now made China and India labor much more accessible than it was in the past. The real issue, though, I go back to is a relative issue. And that is in terms of what Bush is doing to the economy, with regard to tax cuts, with regard to spending, with regard to the most recent budget proposals. I think he is, on several levels, better than what the Democrats have proposed.
You look on the Democratic side, you're talking about somewhere between $130 billion and $1 trillion of additional spending in Democratic packages compared to where Bush is. And so what he's doing to impact the economy, I think, is stronger. And I think that's what's going to win it in South Carolina for us.
BEGALA: Well, Governor, let me ask you about that budget.
BEGALA: The president's budget includes new fees for veterans. Men and some women who have served our country are now going to be charged for the health benefits that they receive. There's also an enormous cut in veterans' benefits, in fact, $13.5 billion below the 2004 level, if you adjust for inflation. That's over five years.
BEGALA: The VFW, not a left-wing group...
BEGALA: ... describes the Bush budget as this, disgraceful, harmful, deplorable. They say it is proof that veterans are no longer a priority with this administration.
Is that the kind of a budget you would support?
SANFORD: The number again was $13 million, I think you...
BEGALA: Thirteen and a half billion below the 2004 level over five years.
SANFORD: Thirteen and a half billion.
BEGALA: Because the VFW says it's deplorable.
SANFORD: Well, again, I haven't seen the details of what we're talking about here.
But what I would say is that, A, oftentimes, you've got to differentiate between the veteran and the dispenser, if you will, of those goods and services. So, the fact that, in many cases, we have an inefficient veterans administration in getting goods and services down to the veterans I think is what the president is focused on.
BEGALA: That's going to have to be the last word.
Governor Mark Sanford, governor of South Carolina, thank you very much.