- The Washington Times - Monday, January 7, 2008

NASHUA, N.H. — Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney yesterday took direct aim at his chief Republican presidential rival here, Sen. John McCain of Arizona, labeling him a Washington insider who cannot bring about change, as he targeted the very voters who hold the key to the senator’s success here: independents.

Mr. Romney said the Iowa caucuses, where two longtime underdogs scored upsets, delivered a clear message: “The people who’ve been in Washington a long time, that have all the Washington years of experience, they got overrun by the upstarts.”

“Americans are not looking for Washington insiders,” the ex-governor said at an elementary school in Manchester. “This is a time of choice for our party.”

Noting that Sen. Barack Obama’s message of change on the Democratic side delivered a win in Iowa over Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton — and saying Mr. Obama “could very well be their nominee” — Mr. Romney asked: “Are we going to put another long-serving U.S. senator up against him?”

Mr. McCain, a 25-year member of Congress, also campaigning in the state he has acknowledged he must win to keep his presidential aspirations alive, did not strike back at Mr. Romney.

“I don’t know him well, but what I know, I like him. He’s a very good family man,” Mr. McCain said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

But asked about the acerbic campaign Mr. Romney has run in Iowa and New Hampshire, the senator said: “Obviously, the negative attack ads, no candidate enjoys those. But I think it’s pretty clear that the people of New Hampshire reject that kind of campaigning.”

At a candidates’ forum featuring the five top-polling national candidates on the Fox News Channel last night, Mr. McCain repeatedly was given the opportunity by moderator Chris Wallace to engage Mr. Romney. At one point, he was shown one of Mr. Romney’s attack ads. But Mr. McCain repeated what he has been saying in recent days.

“Look, these are attack ads. I don’t think they work. But I’m running a positive campaign. I wish you’d have shown one of mine. They’re worth millions,” Mr. McCain said.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani denied that “change” should be the theme of the presidential race.

“Change has been a part of every election since the dawn of elections, if you weren’t an incumbent,” Mr. Thompson said.

Mr. Giuliani added that “change is a slogan.”

“You can have change for good, change for bad. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, when they talk about change, they’re talking about raising taxes. And if you think that’s a good change, well, that’s the direction you want to go in,” he said. “It’s really a question of: What direction are you going to change the country in? Are you going to make us stronger?”

In another sharp exchange, Mr. Romney prodded Iowa caucus winner Mike Huckabee about whether taxes and spending had increased or decreased, on the whole, during his years as Arkansas governor.

“You make up facts faster than you can talk sometimes,” Mr. Romney said as Mr. Huckabee avoided giving a direct answer, saying that he “had a court order that said we had to improve education.”

Earlier in the day, Mr. McCain said that Mr. Romney — who was pro-choice when he ran for the Senate in 1994, but now says he is pro-life — is simply not consistent in his views.

“He has changed his positions on almost every major issue. That is a fact,” he said. But Mr. McCain again pulled back, saying: “Look, we’re in a political campaign here, and I want to debate this campaign on the issues, not on personalities.”

He didn’t mention his opponent during a question-and-answer session at a Salem school, and he mostly resisted engaging in a back-and-forth on Mr. Romney when pressed by reporters.

At his “Ask Mitt Anything” rally in Nashua, Mr. Romney defended his new position on abortion: “I’m not going to apologize for having changed my mind and becoming pro-life.” He used the question from the audience to target Mr. McCain, who said in his morning TV appearance that he still thinks he was right to have opposed huge tax cuts by President Bush.

“If you want somebody that’s never changed their mind, then you’re going to find somebody who oftentimes sticks with the wrong view,” said Mr. Romney, pacing the large room, the sleeves of his starched white shirt rolled up.

“I saw an example just this morning on ‘Meet the Press.’ Senator McCain was on there defending the fact that he voted against the Bush tax cuts. … Now he’s consistent, but he’s wrong, and I’ll take being right over being consistent every day of the week.”

Mr. McCain explained his opposition to the tax cuts on the show. “I was opposed to it because there was no spending cuts,” he said. “Without spending cuts, it was clear that we would be facing the financial debacle, the fiscal debacle, that we are in today.”

Both candidates remained confident about their prospects here. Mr. Romney, for months the poll leader in Iowa and New Hampshire but now trailing by as much as nine points to Mr. McCain here, said yesterday, “I’m planning on winning in New Hampshire.” But he added, “It may not happen,” reflecting new polls.

“Whether it happens here in New Hampshire, or whether it goes on to Michigan, I don’t think the American people are going to line up behind John McCain,” Mr. Romney said, calling his rival wrong on taxes and immigration.

Mr. McCain proclaimed in his TV interview: “I will win.” But later, on his campaign bus, he added, “I believe I will win, but a lot of things can happen between now and Tuesday when the polls close.”

Mr. Huckabee, who trails in the nation’s first primary, downplayed his own prospects, but said: “We’re going to do better than expected.” Mr. Giuliani, staking his hopes on later states, is trying to hold off Mr. Huckabee to finish third.

A new USA Today/Gallup poll showed Mr. McCain had the support of 34 percent of likely Republican primary voters with Mr. Romney at 30 percent and Mr. Huckabee third at 13 percent. Mr. Giuliani and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 8 percent each, while Mr. Thompson was at 3 percent. The poll of 776 persons was taken from Friday to Sunday and had an error margin of four percentage points.

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