McCain wins Bauer endorsement; Bush refilling warchest

By Mike Glover, Associated Press, 02/16/00

GREENVILLE, S.C. -- Pushing toward Saturday's primary, Sen. John McCain won endorsements Wednesday from former rival Gary Bauer and a California official switching from George W. Bush. The Texas governor laid plans for a fresh round of fund raising after running through $50 million.

While McCain crowed about gathering enthusiasm, Bush rebuffed suggestions that he had too little to show for his money, saying he was already campaigning in every state and "I've got a good chance of winning."

Bush was sharply criticized by one of his numerous congressional supporters, Rep. Peter King of New York, who said the governor offended him as a Catholic by speaking at Bob Jones University, controversial for anti-Catholic and racial remarks by past president Bob Jones Jr.

Polls put Bush and McCain in a dead heat just days before the important Republican primary in South Carolina.

Bauer, who quit the race two weeks ago, announced his support for McCain at a rally at Furman University.

"He is our best shot" at winning the White House, Bauer said, arguing McCain has a fix on "the moral idea of America."

Bauer, who was an adviser to President Reagan and whose own campaign focused largely on opposing abortion, is an important force in the competition for social conservatives' votes. Bush has sent repeated mailings to social and religious conservatives questioning McCain's commitment to opposing abortion.

"There's been so much doubt raised about my commitment to some of these issues," McCain said about the Bauer endorsement. "He'll dispel that."

Also signing on was California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the highest elected Republican in that state, which votes March 7 as part of the big round of primaries that could well settle the GOP presidential nomination.

Jones, whose own election in 1998 relied on independents and Democrats, said he switched his endorsement because McCain's message of campaign finance reform would reach beyond Republican stalwarts and help build the party. He complained that some Republicans in South Carolina were sending the message that "your vote doesn't count as an independent or crossover unless you vote for Bush."

Rep. King, R-N.Y., said he was "reconsidering my support for Bush" because his appearance at Bob Jones University was hard to defend and made Bush seem "almost blind to Catholic sensibilities."

Aides said Bush was set to report he had about $20 million left from his vaunted $70 million campaign treasury. That's about twice what McCain said he had left in the bank. Bush already has set a new record for primary-season spending.

Bush was revving up his fund-raising machine after a lull, seeking a refill to compete in looming and expensive big states. McCain has been fund raising heavily since his surprise blowout in New Hampshire.

"We have a plan in place that's going to enable me to stay in this race for the long run," Bush said, noting he was campaigning in more states than McCain. And he suggested McCain was breaking the rules by surpassing state-by-state spending caps imposed on candidates who take federal matching funds. Bush isn't subject to the limits because he declined taxpayer funds.

Dismissing the charge as criticism from "the $80 million man," McCain said he was obeying the rules. The Arizona senator said he would report spending $26 million, with $10 million on hand as of Jan. 31 and a goal of spending $41 million throughout the primaries.

McCain, who has sworn off negative ads, began airing a campaign-closing TV spot in South Carolina designed to convince Republicans that he can defeat both Bush and the eventual Democratic nominee. The upbeat ad features adoring crowds, patriotic images and a voiceover calling McCain "a Republican like Ronald Reagan who can win."

Bush, whose campaign has grown increasingly aggressive, started a new ad that accuses McCain of unfounded negative attacks and of waffling on public financing of congressional elections, which both candidates say they oppose.

McCain was rolling through inland South Carolina from town meeting to town meeting, beaming confidence and arguing he'll be able to press ahead regardless of what happens Saturday.

"I do see increases in enthusiasm out there," said McCain. "I'm pleasantly surprised to be where I am."

Once 20 points behind, McCain said now "the polls show us in the margin of error" and he hoped a backlash against Bush's negative ads would boost him further.