ABBEVILLE, S.C., FEB. 23 -- After raising the political stakes for his presidential campaign here, Pat Robertson today heaped new accusations on Vice President Bush, suggesting that the Bush campaign was responsible for leaking the news of the Jimmy Swaggart scandal to embarrass Robertson before the "Super Tuesday" voting.
Robertson, who first referred to the Bush camp's alleged role Monday, repeated a full-fledged accusation at a news conference today.
Bush immediately dismissed the allegation as "crazy."
Although Robertson said he has "no knowledge" that Bush spawned the scandal, he suggested that Bush's motivation would be to tarnish him by association.
Robertson, a former television evangelist, and Swaggart are friends, and Swaggart has endorsed Robertson's bid for the Republican nomination. Over the weekend, Swaggart confessed to an unspecified sin, later described as hiring a prostitute for a pornographic act.
Asked for evidence that Bush engineered the Swaggart incident, Robertson said, "The evidence that two weeks before the primary . . . it suddenly comes to light."
He added that Bush's campaign staff is prone to "sleazy" tricks, but did not cite any. He noted that Bush was Republican national chairman during the Watergate scandal, even though there is no evidence that implicated Bush in that scandal or cover-up.
While his aides signaled frantically for him to cut the news conference short, the seemingly angry Robertson went on to say that his last-place finish in the New Hampshire primary was "quite possibly" the result of "dirty tricks" by Bush's campaign. He said, again, that he has no evidence but feels this is true.
In St. Louis this morning, Bush dismissed Robertson's charges as "crazy" and "absurd." He added that Robertson should not be "put on the defensive" over Swaggart's problems. "I don't see any connection," he said.
Bush added that if Robertson is accusing his campaign of dirty tricks, "I think you ought to ask him to prove it."
Ignoring the national blueprint put together by chief strategist Marc Nuttle, Robertson has, as he put it, "laid everything on the line" for South Carolina's primary on March 5, three days before "Super Tuesday." This week, he passionately invoked southern pride as he pleaded with voters not to let his candidacy falter here.
Robertson was even tougher on Bush Monday, suggesting that the vice president would put the profits of international banks ahead of U.S. interests.
Robertson said that "the international banking community" is responsible for the decline of South Carolina's textile industry. He said Bush has done nothing to stop the bankers and save the mills here.
"Who does he represent?" Robertson asked. "I'll let you figure out for yourself which side he's playing on in relation to U.S. interests. But I . . . am for the U.S. worker."
Robertson went on the attack because he concedes that he has to win a primary sometime if he is to be the Republican presidential nominee -- and South Carolina seems to be his best shot.
The relatively small state has produced a large audience for the Christian Broadcasting Network, the cable television operation that carried Robertson's electronic ministry for three decades. Surveys suggest that as much as 40 percent of the South Carolina electorate are born-again Christians. That group has provided the former television evangelist his political base in every state.
Further, South Carolina is a "crossover" state in which registered Democrats can vote in the Republican primary. Robertson has evidently drawn support from blue-collar Democrats elsewhere.
And this state is home country for a candidate who proudly declares himself "the only man from the South in the Republican race."
As his long bus caravan wound through the red
clay hills of the South Carolina piedmont this week,
Robertson told every voter about his southern lineage.
"I'm the only candidate who was born at Stone- wall Jackson Hospital," he said. "I'm the only one who
went to college where Robert E. Lee was president." Robertson is a graduate of Washington and Lee University.
For these reasons, Robertson said, South Carolina should support him instead of a "New Englander named George Bush." He added, "I believe, somehow, my destiny and South Carolina's destiny are very much tied in together."
It is clear that Robertson has fervent support in
central South Carolina. In Aiken and Columbia he
drew huge crowds of energized voters who rarely
let him finish a sentence without a roar of applause.
Still, Robertson's staff was surprised when the candidate declared last week that South Carolina is a "must win" state for him.
"I was just as surprised as you when he made that statement," said Roberta Combs, Robertson's state chairman. "But he's our leader. If he says it, that's what we're going to try to do."