GREENVILLE, S.C. – President Bush told a group of South Carolina firefighters and emergency personnel that they are just as important in protecting the nation as their colleagues in New York City.
And to show his commitment, Bush said Wednesday he wants to spend billions of dollars on training and equipment to help respond to possible terrorist attacks.
Bush's South Carolina visit concluded with a fund-raiser for U.S. Senate candidate Lindsey Graham, who told reporters an attack on Iraq was imminent.
"I don't know when, but I know this president is not going to let Saddam Hussein stay in power," said Graham, R-S.C. "If you leave him in power it will just be a matter of time before he gets a hold of weapons of mass destruction."
Graham, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, said his information comes from intelligence briefings, contact with the Bush administration and Graham's attendance at a recent international conference in Germany.
"I can only tell you what the president's position is," said White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. "The president has no plans to attack Iraq. He's made no decisions. He's made clear what he thinks about the regime in Iraq, but he has no plans; he's made no decisions."
Bush and Graham were greeted by a handful of school children and local GOP supporters after they landed in Air Force One at the Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport.
Bush spoke to hundreds of firefighters, paramedics and police officers about his plan to spend $3.5 billion on better equipment and training for those who would respond first to a terror attack.
"We understand we have to have a strategy for rural South Carolina as well as rural America," Bush said. "I know the price of what we do is high, but it is never too high, as far as I am concerned, when you're fighting for freedom."
South Carolina can use all the money the federal government wants to give, said Steve Siegfried, the state's homeland security director.
While volunteer fire departments might not have the equipment or training to immediately deal with a terrorist attack, "there's a ton of stuff we can get to them in a short time," he said.
"We're prepared, but it never hurts to be a little more prepared," Siegfried said.
About 75 people holding signs protesting everything from abortion to clean elections lined the streets outside the Palmetto Expo Center, where Bush headlined a luncheon form Graham, who backed Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the 2000 presidential race.
Bush is burying the hatchet because he needs Graham to win the seat vacated by the retiring Strom Thurmond if he wants to regain control of the Senate, said Neal Thigpen, a political science professor at Francis Marion University.
"This is too important for him to conduct himself in that fashion," Thigpen said. "He was almost obliged to come."
The South Carolina House of Representatives adjourned for the day for members to attend the event.
Minimum price for plates at Wednesday's lunch was $1,000 and planners expected to net $1 million for the Graham.
Democrats complained that Bush's visit with law enforcement officials was added by the White House to split the cost of his travel between the taxpayers and Graham's campaign.
In 1999, Graham voted for a measure to require a candidate's principal campaign committee to reimburse the federal government for all use of government transportation for political purposes.
Graham said his campaign would pay for part of the Bush visit but didn't say how much.
The Republican National Committee estimates that Air Force One costs $35,000 an hour. The round-trip flying time to Greenville is three hours, so the plane's tab would be $105,000.
White House documents show the average cost for the White House is $16,000 for hotels, food, advance people, and escort vehicles.
But the visit is important to Republicans as Graham faces a tough Democratic opponent -- former judge, lawmaker and college president Alex Sanders, who also has star power behind him. U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., was in Columbia on Monday for a breakfast fund-raiser.
Thigpen expects plenty of Democrats will come to South Carolina to stump with Sanders because it also gets them exposure in a state that will hold the third Democratic presidential primary in 2004.
"You're going to see swarms of them coming in to test the waters," Thigpen said.
Bush's trip to Greenville is the first for a president since Bush's father campaigned there in 1992. And Wednesday's fund-raiser is the first in South Carolina by a Republican president since 1990, when Bush's father came to the Governor's Mansion to help then-Gov. Carroll Campbell raise $500,000 for his re-election bid.
Bush heads to Georgia later Wednesday to raise money for Republican Rep. Saxby Chambliss, who is trying to oust Democratic Sen. Max Cleland.