- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

Sen. John McCain yesterday called for tax cuts for everybody, while his chief rival for the Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, said Mr. McCain has been closer to the Democrats on tax cuts and a host of other issues during his career.

Taking to the airwaves 48 hours before tomorrow’s slate of more than 20 primaries and caucuses, both men sought to compete for the conservative voters that Mr. Romney needs to win over for the nomination and that Mr. McCain needs to begin wooing if he wants to win in November.

“The voices of conservatism across the country — radio talk-show hosts, magazine columnists and so forth — who are conservative, mainstream Republicans are coming out for me in record numbers,” Mr. Romney said on ABC’s “This Week.”

But Mr. McCain said he would stack his credentials up against Mr. Romney.

“If you look at my record, and you look at Governor Romney’s record, particularly as governor of the state of Massachusetts, it’s very different, and I’m far more conservative,” he told CBS’ “Face the Nation” program.

The Arizona senator was one of just two Republican senators to vote against both of President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax-cut packages, arguing in 2001 that the cuts were skewed to the rich. But yesterday, he said all taxpayers, including the wealthy, deserve tax cuts.

“I think everybody needs a tax cut. I’m for lower taxes for everybody,” he said, vowing to veto any tax increases, but also promising to cut spending as well.

Nearly left out of the cycle of Sunday shows was Mike Huckabee, another candidate still running for the nomination. While he didn’t make any of the flagship broadcast network shows, he spoke to CNN, telling them this is only a two-man race if Mr. Romney drops out.

“I think it is time for Mitt Romney to step aside. You know, I’m leading in the states that are going to be real critical on Super Tuesday throughout the South, substantially ahead of Mitt Romney in these states,” the former Arkansas governor said.

“If he wants to call it a two-man race, fine, but that makes it John McCain and me,” Mr. Huckabee said.

Rep. Ron Paul, the final candidate rounding out the Republican field, has been drawing sizable crowds as he campaigns in Super Tuesday states. He is the only candidate in the field who does not have at least one victory in a state.

With more than 20 states holding contests tomorrow, the polls suggest it is shaping up to be a big day for Mr. McCain.

He holds big leads in New York and New Jersey, and slimmer though significant leads in Illinois, Missouri and his home state of Arizona.

Mr. Romney’s one bright spot is California, where a Zogby Poll shows him leading by 3 percentage points, though two other polls put Mr. McCain up by 8 percentage points.

But both California and Mr. Romney’s home state of Massachusetts, as well as some of the other states he’s targeting, split delegates based on how well candidates do in each congressional district. That means even victories there won’t deliver the same benefits as Mr. McCain would get from winning the big states.

After rising and falling in the 2000 presidential race against then-Gov. George W. Bush, and after stumbling earlier in this campaign, Mr. McCain has been flickering back and forth between confident and worried.

On Saturday, he seemed confident, saying he assumed the nomination was his. Yesterday, he was cautious.

“I’ve seen this movie before,” he told reporters on his campaign bus. “My job is to keep our expectation levels down and, frankly, not raise expectations to a degree that we could suffer some setback.”

He campaigned in Connecticut before flying to Massachusetts, where he has a rally planned today in Boston, Mr. Romney’s home turf.

Mr. Romney was in Illinois trying to drive home his message that Mr. McCain is the wrong choice for conservatives.

“I’m afraid it’s going to be real hard to win the White House if there’s not much difference between our nominee and theirs, and that’s why I’m going to make sure that we stand for Republican ideals,” Mr. Romney said at a rally.

His argument has gotten a boost in the last week from an unlikely source: Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama, who on several occasions has said Mr. McCain and Democrats have seen eye to eye over the past eight years.

In the Democratic debate last week, Mr. Obama pointed out Mr. McCain’s opposition to tax cuts, and Mr. Obama, Illinois Democrat, also said he and Mr. McCain shared the same immigration policy. Mr. Romney says that list should also include mandates to control global warming and an overhaul of campaign-finance law.

Yesterday, Mr. McCain said he expects there will be enough differences between himself and either Mr. Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York to give voters a choice.

“I’m always pleased to have so much attention from the nominees, or the two contenders for the Democratic nomination,” he said on CBS.

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