MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) - Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani sought common ground with firefighters Friday, linking the suffering from last month's deadly furniture store blaze in South Carolina to the pain from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Giuliani's appearance came as a new poll showed him leading among GOP candidates in the early voting state. His speech to the South Carolina firefighters also comes days after relatives of firefighters killed at the World Trade Center reproached him in a video, pairing footage of the falling twin towers with charges the former New York mayor was woefully unprepared for Sept. 11.
The parents and siblings of some of the 343 firefighters killed in the terrorist attacks released the video with the International Association of Fire Fighters, which opposes Giuliani's candidacy.
Giuliani told reporters Friday that he has not seen the video.
"I understand sometimes people's anger about that, tremendous frustration about that and sometimes there are political motives," he said. "People can make their own judgment about it. There is enough on the public record so I'm very comfortable and people can make their own judgment."
Giuliani spoke to about 600 firefighters a month after nine firefighters died in the furniture store blaze. He noted that while New York City lost 3 percent of its firefighters on Sept. 11, Charleston lost 4 percent of its force.
"We unite because we have been through the same thing and we understand. We also understand what you are going to go through next month and next year," Giuliani said. "It doesn't get easier, you just learn from it."
He told the firefighters at the conference sponsored by the South Carolina State Firefighters Association that they "are right in the front lines of the biggest challenge we face in modern America.
"The challenge we face is Islamic terrorism," Giuliani said.
Giuliani also criticized by name rival Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards for pushing for a detailed plan for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
"I think that's an inherently irresponsible thing to do," Giuliani said after his speech.
The latest South Carolina poll showed Giuliani with 30 percent support and Sen. John McCain of Arizona at 21 percent. The CNN/Opinion Research Corp. survey had a sampling error margin of plus or minus 5 percentage points.