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Greenville News - McCain Sets Veterans' Health Care As Priority

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Greenville News - McCain Sets Veterans' Health Care As Priority

By Dan Hoover

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Arizona Sen. John McCain took his Republican presidential campaign to disparate Upstate venues Tuesday, a modest eatery in a small struggling textile town and an elegant hotel ballroom in vibrant downtown Greenville.

Each got the same message.

He told an overflow breakfast crowd in Inman and Greenville Rotary Club members that improving veterans' health care would be his foremost domestic priority.

The former Navy combat pilot and prisoner of war said it was "unconscionable" that Congress has failed to pass initiatives so that veterans "receive the health care they deserve and have earned." And with news breaking of a former CIA agent saying valuable information was gained from waterboarding an al-Qaida prisoner, McCain stood firm on his opposition to torture.

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The Iraq war, with its high number of severely wounded troops, is only exacerbating the problem, McCain said.

"I'm going to fix that" with better procedures, enhanced funding and a plastic identification card that would open doors at any health-care facility so veterans wouldn't have to wait for appointments or beds at overcrowded veterans' hospitals, he said.

McCain focused on veterans' issues because "it's on the top of his mind, and it's going to come up in (Wednesday's) debate in Des Moines," said Trey Walker, a McCain strategist for South Carolina.

With the primary 39 days off, the once front-running McCain faces an uphill fight. Most South Carolina polls show him no better than fourth or fifth, barely clinging to a double-digit figure.

Tuesday's Survey USA poll had him fifth at 10 percent in a race now dominated by the surge of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who has vaulted into the lead in Iowa and South Carolina and is in a statistical tie for first place nationally in some polls.

There was good news and bad news in a CNN/Opinion Research Poll. It showed McCain would defeat every leading Democrat except John Edwards, losing to him by the smallest margin of any in the GOP field. That fits with the electability theme McCain's strategists have been pushing for several weeks.


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