Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona
JAMES ISLAND, South Carolina (CNN) – Sen. John McCain made abundantly clear Friday that his fate in South Carolina rests firmly on the coastal areas that voted in his favor when he ran for president in 2000.
Although he has campaigned furiously along the coast, populated by thousands of McCain-friendly veterans and military personnel, it’s the first time he's acknowledged the region is a must-win for him.
"We've got to carry the coast heavily," he said to an audience at an American Legion hall here. "We've got to win on the coast, and I think we can. We've got to win all over, but its very important we win here."
McCain defeated then-Texas Gov. George Bush in several coastal counties in the 2000 primary, while Bush dominated McCain in Upstate counties with larger populations of GOP primary voters and churchgoing conservatives.
But unlike that primary nearly eight years ago, the current GOP contest is not just a two-man race, which could dilute McCain's support where he needs it most.
South Carolina's demographics have also changed: out-of-state retirees, including many New Yorkers, have poured into communities in and around cities like Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, when he campaigns here, targets coastal communities in particular.
Still, McCain was in friendly territory on Friday as he made an old-fashioned political appeal to the crowd of veterans gathered around a bar.
"I'm asking for your support," he said. "I'm asking for your vote and I'm asking you to make a few phone calls. I'm asking you to put up a sign in your yard."
- CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby