COLUMBIA, S.C. – The two candidates vying to fill South Carolina's open Senate seat both pledged Sunday to fully arm American troops in Iraq, as the Army investigates the refusal of a South Carolina-based platoon to go on a convoy mission because their trucks were unarmored.
Republican Jim DeMint (search) said the refusal of the 18 reservists in the 343rd Quartermaster Company last week to deliver fuel in trucks they considered unsafe illustrates the need for sufficient equipment to win the war.
But DeMint questioned the support of his opponent, Democrat Inez Tenenbaum (search), for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (search), who voted against a bill in the Senate last year seeking $87 billion in funding for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It does bring out how important it is that we give the president the money to have the equipment, resources, the body armor," DeMint, a three-term congressman, said during a debate with Tenenbaum on NBC's "Meet the Press."
"And that's one of the reasons that we have to worry about my opponent's support of John Kerry, because that is exactly the problem we're having," he added.
Tenenbaum, the state's education superintendent, said she disagrees with Kerry's vote on the funding bill and said President Bush was right to oust Saddam Hussein (search), even though no weapons of mass destruction have been found.
"We needed to remove Saddam Hussein. He had killed thousands of people. He had had weapons of mass destruction that he used against the Kurds and the Iranians. He had invaded Kuwait. He tried to assassinate a United States president," she said.
If elected, Tenenbaum also said she would fight to give the troops the equipment they need.
The candidates are in a tight race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Ernest "Fritz" Hollings (search), who has held the seat for nearly 40 years.
South Carolina's race is being watched closely because it could help decide which party controls the Senate, which has 51 Republicans, 48 Democrats and one independent who typically sides with Democrats.
DeMint is considered the front-runner, but he has watched the polls tighten in recent weeks after saying that gays and unwed, pregnant women are unfit to be public school teachers.
He refused to answer whether he stood by those comments on Sunday. Instead, he apologized again for talking about an issue that should be left up to local school boards.
Tenenbaum has called DeMint's comments un-American.
DeMint also stood by his proposal to get rid of the Internal Revenue Service in exchange for a national sales tax. He said he would support exceptions or refunds to help low-income people pay the tax on food and other goods.
Tenenbaum defended her record as the state's education superintendent, saying she has worked hard to improve academic standards in South Carolina, despite the fact the state's students have the lowest average SAT score in the country.