MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — During a speech to South Carolina firefighters Friday morning, presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani emphasized the similarities and bonds among South Carolina firefighters, New York City firefighters, and those from across the world.
Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, pointed out that Charleston, S.C., lost a greater percentage of its force - 4 percent - when nine firefighters died on June 18 than New York City did on Sept. 11, 2001 when the city lost 3 percent of its 11,000-plus force.
"The connections are very, very, very, very strong," said Giuliani, who attended a memorial service for the Charleston firefighters last month. "We unite because we've been through the same thing, and we understand. And we also understand what you're going to go through next month, next year, and at the anniversary two years from now, five years from now. It doesn't get easier. You just learn from it."
Giuliani, who hopes to win the Republican nomination for president, gave a 40-minute speech at the South Carolina State Firefighters Association Conference. He received two standing ovations - one at the beginning and one at the end - but he did not deliver any so-called applause lines during the speech.
He spoke about his uncle, a New York City firefighter, and about the sense of humor and duty that he believed all firefighters shared.
Outside the hall at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center, a group of Giuliani supporters set up a table to recruit others to their cause. As of last count, South Carolina Firefighters for Giuliani had 200 members, campaign spokesman Elliot Bundy said.
The group has been defending Giuliani from criticism from the International Association of Fire Fighters, which released a video accusing him of, among other things, not making sure firefighters had proper radios.
Among the firefighters who have signed on to support Giuliani are some of Myrtle Beach's top fire officials: Chief Alvin Payne, Battalion Chief Bruce Arnel and Lt. Dan Walker.
In response to questions about the video, Giuliani said he did his best and people can judge him based on the copious public records of his actions.
"My involvement in Sept. 11 is well known to many people, and they're going to have to judge me," he said. "I did the best that I could. There's enough on the public record that I'm comfortable that people can make their own judgment about that."
He also said he has not watched the video.
Myrtle Beach Asst. Chief Dan Cimini, who said he knows there is not universal support in his firehouse for Giuliani, said he had not watched the video, either.
"I really don't listen to that," Cimini said. "I work in a city where sometimes our radios don't work. We're constantly looking for ways to try to improve that system. Across the country, nationally, the radio systems of this country are terrible. How can you blame one man for that? ... For every group in New York City, from what I can gather, that is against him, there is a group for him in the fire service."
Giuliani flew in Thursday evening and had breakfast this morning with several Myrtle Beach political and fire department officials.
This was Giuliani's third campaign stop in Myrtle Beach since April.
A poll of Republican primary voters released Friday by CNN and the Opinion Research Corporation showed Giuliani leading Republicans in South Carolina, with 28 percent, followed by Sen. John McCain with 20 percent.