Bush, Cruz appeal to South Carolina's military community

CHARLESTON, South Carolina (AP) — Jeb Bush and Ted Cruz on Tuesday appealed to South Carolina, a state with a large military and veteran population, with promises to strengthen U.S. defense as the next Republican primary approaches. Democratic rivals Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders sought support from black voters in upcoming nominating contests.

South Carolina residents will cast their votes for a Republican nominee for president on Saturday. For the Democrats, the Nevada caucuses are next.

Polls show Donald Trump leading with about a third of the vote in South Carolina, holding a double-digit lead over Cruz, a Texas senator. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio is trying to rebound from a disappointing fifth place finish in the New Hampshire primary.

Bush, the former Florida governor, is desperately trying to save his campaign by finishing ahead of Rubio and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. They are locked in a race to emerge as the more mainstream alternative to Trump, the brash billionaire, and Cruz, an outspoken conservative Cruz. On Monday, Bush had his brother, former President George W. Bush, on the campaign trail for the first time.

Jeb Bush's comments Tuesday focused heavily on gun rights. He also addressed the Supreme Court vacancy following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, saying that he would choose someone who, like Scalia, was a "lover of liberty."

Cruz called for increasing the number of active-duty troops, airplanes and battleships. He did not put a price tag on his plans, but pointed to former President Ronald Reagan's approach as a model for how he would get it done.

Cruz said he will pay for it by cutting federal spending by at least $500 billion, selling federal assets and properties and auditing the Pentagon to find savings.

Cruz came under fire from his rivals over what they call a pattern of unethical campaign tactics and inaccurate statements by the Texas senator who has shaped his White House bid around trust. Trump and Rubio have accused Cruz of distorting their records with increasing frequency, openly calling him a liar.

The Texas senator shrugged off the criticism Tuesday while campaigning in South Carolina. Trump and Rubio have accused Cruz of distorting their records with increasing frequency.

"Both Donald Trump and Marco Rubio have this very strange pattern where if you point to their actual record, if you point to the words that have come out of their mouth, they don't respond on substance. They just scream 'Liar! Liar! Liar!'" Cruz said Tuesday.

The fiery conservative's ability to navigate questions about his integrity could well decide his fate in the crowded 2016 contest, where he remains a top-tier contender.

"He's lying. And I think it's disturbing," Rubio said in Beaufort. "I think this is very disturbing when you have a candidate that now on a regular basis just makes things up."

Trump was even more aggressive, describing Cruz the day before as "the single biggest liar I've ever come across, in politics or otherwise."

Clinton, the Democratic front-runner, made a direct appeal to black voters Tuesday as she moved to shore up the support of minority voters in advance of nominating contests in South Carolina and the Deep South, where blacks make up more than half of the Democratic electorate.

Clinton spent all of Tuesday in New York City focused on solidifying the African-American support her family has long enjoyed and that her campaign is counting on to act as a firewall against the surprisingly insurgent campaign of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

She capped off her day with a speech at a Harlem public library in which she vowed to protect the economic opportunities and voting rights of African-Americans. The former secretary of state suggested black voters would find her proposals more far-reaching than Sanders' warnings about economic inequality and the power of Wall Street.

"It's not enough for your economic plan to be, 'Break up the banks,'" Clinton said. "You also need a serious plan to create jobs especially in places where unemployment remains stubbornly high."

Sanders has pushed back against Clinton's contention that he is only a "single-issue" candidate and campaigned Tuesday in South Carolina, holding a prayer breakfast with black ministers and appearing with Erica Garner, whose father, Eric Garner, died from a police chokehold in New York City in 2014.

Sanders pledged to reduce income inequality and break up big financial institutions, but also stressed criminal justice reform and voting rights and reflected on the country's racial history. "It is clear to everybody that we still have a long, long way to go," he said.