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CNN Today

Election 2000: America's Vets Marching to a Different Drummer than John McCain

Aired March 3, 2000 - 2:29 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: As a former prisoner of war, McCain has made a vocal pitch for the votes of American veterans. But as CNN's Gary Tuchman now reports, with primary season coming to a head, vets are marching to different drummers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are four very proud veterans who served their country in combat in Korea and Vietnam, and Republican presidential candidate John McCain is a hero to them.

FRANK MCLEOD, AIR FORCE VETERAN: I can trust what he says. I really think I can take it to the bank, no question about it.

TUCHMAN: Air Force vet Frank McLeod will vote for McCain in this Tuesday's Georgia primary. But despite the fact that veterans would seem to be a natural constituency for the former Vietnam War POW, the rest of this group feels differently.

NEIL BOATWRIGHT, ARMY VETERAN: John McCain is a hero, he's a great man, but I don't think he's the man that should be leading our country.

TUCHMAN: American Legion Post 160 in Smyrna, Georgia, is the state's largest, and even McCain supporters here acknowledge most of the post's members don't support their candidate.

BOATWRIGHT: I think that George W. Bush is the most qualified man to unite the party and to elect a Republican the next president of the United States.

TUCHMAN: In a CNN Gallup Poll conducted in February, 53 percent of Republican veterans said they supported George W. Bush. Only 37 percent said John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My comrades, the people I know best and love most are those who I've had the privilege of serving with in the military.

TUCHMAN: In the South Carolina primary, where John McCain actively courted the state's many veterans, he was only able to split the veteran vote. Many vets say they're unhappy the Arizona senator has said it's highly unlikely there are any American POW's still alive in Vietnam.

BILL BROWN, MARINE CORPS VETERAN: I think he's misinformed, I really do.

TUCHMAN: Others are angry he voted against a bill to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs last year. McCain said the measure contained too many pork-barrel projects attached to the bill. The McCain supporter in this group says it's his comrades who are misinformed.

MCLEOD: They need to read more and observe more, and I think they'll come around to my way, no question.

TUCHMAN (on camera): Do you think that's possible, Don, that you'd change your mind about John McCain?

DON PHAGAN, NAVY VETERAN: I think I've read just as much as Frank has about him, and I appreciate him trying to tell me that I need to read more about it...

TUCHMAN (voice-over): But, he says, he won't be changing his mind.

(on camera): By any measure, veterans are an important and influential voting block, but there are no indications during this presidential primary season that they intend to march in step to the ballot box.

MCLEOD: I've known them to be wrong before, and they are now.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: He might come around to our way of thinking, but I'm not going to go to his way of thinking on this issue.

(LAUGHTER)

MCLEOD: Not before Tuesday.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: Or any other time, for that matter.

(LAUGHTER)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Gary Tuchman, CNN, Smyrna, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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