With John McCain on vacation and Rudy Giuliani occupied elsewhere in the state, Mitt Romney sought this weekend to close the deal with New Hampshire Republicans who remain undecided about his presidential candidacy.
Romney fired away at McCain, repeatedly accusing the Arizona senator of failing “Reagan 101″ by voting twice against Bush administration tax cuts. Romney also said McCain’s past support for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and work toward legal status amounted to amnesty.
“You know, right now Sen. McCain and I are both battling for your support and your vote. He’s a good man, but we have differing views on this,” Romney told a capacity crowd at the Peterborough Town House.
McCain senior adviser Mark Salter shot back: “Welcome to Mitt Romney’s bizarro world, in which everyone is guilty of his sins. He didn’t support Ronald Reagan. He didn’t support President Bush’s tax cuts. … New Hampshire is onto you, Mitt.”
Romney largely ignored Giuliani, telling reporters he was focusing on McCain rather than the former New York mayor because Giuliani had curtailed his campaigning here and polls showed his support flagging.
A Boston Globe poll released Sunday bolstered Romney’s analysis: McCain had pulled into a statistical dead heat after his campaign appeared all but dead this summer.
Just 15 days before the primary, Romney had the support of 28 percent of likely voters, McCain 25 percent and Giuliani 14 percent. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. A similar poll last month had Romney at 32 percent, Giuliani in second at 20 percent and McCain in third at 17 percent.
Romney has also lost the lead he held in Iowa, which kicks off the nominating process with its Jan. 3 caucuses, to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee has campaigned only sporadically in New Hampshire, which votes Jan. 8.
“It’s between Mitt Romney and John McCain,” said Kelly Drew, a 43-year-old contracting company worker who attended a Romney event Saturday in North Conway. “If I could blend the both of them, it would be great.”
She cited Romney’s talk of fiscal responsibility with McCain’s sense of world affairs, although after Romney’s presentation, she sought out the reporter who had interviewed her previously to say, “If you get to talk to Mr. Romney, ask him how he’s going to pay for everything he just talked about.”
When faced with that question, Romney explains that he and his budget specialists have a plan to offset any new spending with equivalent cuts.
Another pair of undecided voters at the same event, Mark and Kate Munroe of Concord, Mass., said they were leaning Romney’s way but wanted to hear him directly.
“We support somebody who supports our values and will bring the United States over the next four years to a better place,” said Mark Munroe, 32, a commercial real estate broker who grew up in North Conway.
During eight events over the course of three days, Romney traversed the state. At each stop, he was accompanied by his wife, Ann, as well as the state’s senior U.S. senator, Judd Gregg.
Gregg said he was backing Romney because he would inject a “can-do” spirit and sense of optimism to Washington.
“This is going to be a very important election,” Gregg told voters in Peterborough. “We in New Hampshire are playing a unique role, as we always do every four years, and the fact that you’re here today reinforces why we have done so well playing that role.”
Ann Romney spoke of her husband’s personal side and made overt references to their 38-year marriage. Both McCain and Giuliani have been divorced, a point of angst for some social conservatives.