Sen. John McCain lashed out at a chief Republican presidential rival and the top Democratic presidential hopeful yesterday, questioning former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney"s commitment to pro-life causes and challenging Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton"s pork-barrel spending.
In a Web video, Mr. McCain"s campaign says Mr. Romney was still defending pro-choice laws in Massachusetts six months after he said he had changed his mind on abortion and embraced the pro-life cause. And in a later press conference in California, the Arizona Republican vowed to go to the Senate floor to try to strip millions of dollars of Mrs. Clinton"s earmarks out of a defense bill.
Together, the attacks highlight two areas in which Mr. McCain is arguably the most conservative among the major candidates: spending and abortion.
But Mr. Romney"s campaign shot back that it was a desperate move by "a campaign that is faltering and flailing." Mr. McCain has seen his poll numbers dip in several national surveys this week and has been under attack from conservatives for supporting an immigration bill that many Republicans denounce as amnesty for illegal aliens.
At issue was an answer that Mr. Romney gave to a question about abortion at a press conference about a drunken-driving bill in 2005, when he was governor.
"I am absolutely committed to my promise to maintain the status quo with regards to laws relating to abortion and choice, and so far I"ve been able to successfully do that," Mr. Romney said at the time.
Mr. McCain"s campaign said that"s a problem because Mr. Romney says he changed his mind and embraced the pro-life cause on Nov. 9, 2004 after a meeting with an embryonic stem-cell researcher.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said the comment came during a press conference at which Mr. Romney "made a passionate case for his veto of stem-cell legislation" and said Mr. McCain was altering the context.
Mr. Madden said that as governor, Mr. Romney blocked efforts to expand pro-choice measures and embryo-destroying research, which Mr. Romney calls an accomplishment given Massachusetts" political leanings.
"The McCain campaign"s motives are obviously borne of desperation. Their actions are both sad and unfortunate," Mr. Madden said.
As for Mrs. Clinton, Mr. McCain said he will take on her projects on the Senate floor.
The Hill, a newspaper that covers the Capitol, reported yesterday that the New York Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee secured the second-highest dollar value for earmarks of any committee member, despite being among the more junior senators on the panel.
"We can"t do this earmarking and pork-barreling if we ever are going to be careful and serious stewards of the taxpayer"s dollars," Mr. McCain said, pointing out that not one of the projects was requested by the Pentagon.
Phil Singer, a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, said she "has worked to hard to advance measures that protect our troops abroad and assist their families here at home."
Her earmarks include $14 million for a chemical decontamination kit, $2 million for an IED blast trauma-detection kit and $2 million for Precision Pharma, a New York company, to fund the testing of a type of wound dressing that helps stop blood loss. The Clinton campaign also pointed out Mr. McCain, a panel member, has praised the defense bill as a solid measure that protects taxpayer money.