Republican rivals gang up against aggressive Romney
MANCHESTER, N.H.— Surging in New Hampshire, John McCain seemingly should be the candidate taking heat from his Republican presidential opponents. But Mitt Romney was the one assailed during and after a high-stakes GOP debate. Romney’s rivals want to cripple his campaign with searing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire that would hamper the wealthy former Massachusetts governor in states beyond. They also don’t particularly care for him. Back and forth it went yesterday, two days before the primary and only hours after Saturday night’s debate. “My friend, you can spend your whole fortune on these attack ads, but it still won’t be true,” McCain told his chief competitor Saturday night, taking issue with Romney’s characterization of the Arizona senator’s immigration plan as amnesty. “I don’t describe your plan as amnesty in my ad, I don’t call it amnesty,” Romney shot back — even though two of his TV commercials use the term, including one that says McCain “wrote the amnesty bill that America rejected.’’
Yesterday, Romney acknowledged: “I was simply incorrect.’’
The immigration skirmish was just one of several in which Romney was on the defensive.
“The guy with the ball is the guy people are trying to tackle,” Romney told ABC’s This Week yesterday, brushing aside the heat he had faced the night before.
Pressed about the frequent characterization of him as a flip-flopper, Romney blamed his chief rival in New Hampshire, saying: “The McCain campaign from the very beginning did a masterful political job of trying to tag me with that.’’
Romney argued that his positions as he runs for president are consistent with the actions he took as governor — despite evidence that he has shifted to the right on some issues.
He took issue with politicians more interested in personal insults than changing government — even as his campaign tried to portray McCain as a nasty candidate with a record of personally attacking his opponents.
McCain, for his part, tried to walk a careful line.
“He has changed his position on almost every major issue,’’ McCain said of Romney on NBC’s Meet the Press. “That doesn’t mean he’s not a good person.’’
Mike Huckabee acknowledged “a brotherhood” of sorts with McCain, fuelled by Romney’s criticism. “We have both been brutally assaulted by Governor Romney with amazingly misleading ads that attacked and distorted and misrepresented our records, Romney attacking me in Iowa, attacking him in New Hampshire,” Huckabee said on Fox News Sunday. Romney’s aggressive demeanour over the past few days and his rivals’ willingness to openly assail him reflect the stakes in the wide-open race for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination. Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor, defeated Romney in the Iowa caucuses on Thursday with an underfunded campaign. Now Romney faces a strong challenge from a resurgent McCain in New Hampshire’s firstin-the-nation primary tomorrow. Romney walked on to the debate stage onstage fresh from a victory in the scarcely contested Wyoming caucuses. Seeking to become the first Mormon president, he said the outcome was “just the beginning.’’ Two new polls in New Hampshire suggested McCain’s momentum had carried him into a narrow lead over Romney, with Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani trailing. Romney, who has contributed more than $17 million of his own money to his bid, could hang in the race far longer than others. But it would be difficult, though not impossible, to rebound from a second straight loss, given that his strategy has been based on using consecutive victories to steamroll the field in later-voting states.