Sparks fly as GOP Presidential race heats up

Republican Mitt Romney accused John McCain of using dirty tricks by suggesting the former Massachusetts governor wanted a deadline for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, in a spirited debate Wednesday night that underscored the intensity of their presidential rivalry.

Coming 24 hours after McCain defeated him in Florida, Romney vented his frustrations over the Arizona senator’s claims from last weekend.

“I have never, ever supported a specific timetable” for withdrawing troops, Romney said. McCain’s accusation on the eve of Tuesday’s primary, he said, “sort of falls into the dirty tricks that I think Ronald Reagan would have found reprehensible.”

The debate was held in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., six days before more than 20 states hold primaries or caucuses that could determine who succeeds President Bush as the party’s standard-bearer.

McCain stuck to his guns, saying, “of course he said he wanted a timetable” for a withdrawal. McCain had made the allegation in Florida as he tried to shift the debate from the ailing economy, a stronger issue for Romney, a former venture capitalist and businessman.

Last April, Romney said U.S. and Iraqi leaders “have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about” in private.

In Wednesday’s debate, Romney said he was not calling for a specific withdrawal date. “It’s simply wrong, and the senator knows it,” he said. “I will not pull our troops out until we have brought success in Iraq.”

For 90 minutes, Romney and McCain sharply challenged each other’s conservative credentials and ability to lead the country. But they generally remained civil, and each called the other “a fine man.”

Romney tried to portray McCain, who performs well among political independents, as out of the conservative mainstream as the contest moves toward a cluster of states where only registered Republicans can vote. He said the Arizona senator twice voted against President Bush’s tax cuts and pushed campaign finance reforms that restricted fundraising and spending. The Republican establishment embraced the tax cuts and opposed the new campaign law, which many saw as helpful to Democrats.

“Those views are outside the view of mainstream Republican thought,” Romney said. He made similar arguments in Florida, but lost to McCain by 5 percentage points.

McCain disputed the claims. “I’m proud of my conservative record,” he said.

In a counterpunch, he said Romney left Massachusetts with high taxes and a large debt. “His job creation was the third worst in the country,” McCain said, a claim Romney rejected.

The debate allowed McCain and Romney to focus on one another after Florida voters left no doubt that they are the party’s two viable contenders. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani left the race earlier Wednesday and endorsed McCain.

During the debate, The Associated Press reported that California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger would endorse McCain on Thursday. Schwarzenegger was in the audience, as was Nancy Reagan, widow of the former president.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also participated in the debate televised by CNN, but largely watched as the two front-runners, who were seated next to each other, trade barbs. Huckabee protested, “this isn’t a two-man race.”

“If you want to talk conservative credentials, let me get in on that,” said Huckabee, who has won no contest since the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus.

Paul reiterated his criticisms of the Iraq war and U.S. monetary policies.

McCain tried to deflect questions on illegal immigration, a sore point with many Republicans who resented his push for a Senate bill, ultimately unsuccessful, that would have granted a path to legal status for millions of undocumented immigrants now in the country.

Asked if he would vote for his bill now, McCain replied, “it won’t” come to a vote “because people want the borders secured first.” He said he supports new efforts to prevent illegal crossings.

California is one of several states voting on Tuesday that has a large immigrant population.

Romney said McCain opposed Bush’s first-term tax cuts because they were tilted largely toward the rich. But Romney defended the cuts, saying, “I believe in getting rates down. I think that builds our economy.”

McCain said he opposes tax cuts that are not coupled with spending restraints. Republicans lost congressional seats in 2006 less because of the Iraq war than because of out-of-control spending that alienated conservatives, McCain said.


  1. LurkingFromTheLeft

    You know we are in trouble when

    …Mitt makes McCain seem like not a bad choice –

    …isn’t THAT yet another sign the end is near?


  2. bryan mcclellan

    Hell bound train by Savoy Brown is ever more relevant today.And to think ,I thought Reagan vs Mondale was a joke.This is cruelty and incompetence unmasked and stark buck naked before our eyes.HACK HACK!

  3. Wayne K Dolik

    Yes herd all us little lemmings over the cliff to the chosen few. Yes, forget about the second tier candidates like Huckabee and Paul. Yeah Cooper, of CNN go ahead and be manipulative and rude towards Huckabee and Paul. Yeah, go ahead Cooper you are part of the elitist world now. You decide who gets to get their ideas out.

    This last debate was another media circus. It is time that our Congress calls for an equal time amendment/law to force the Media to be fair and unbiased toward all presidential candidates. Presidential candidates deserve equal time because the public owns the airwaves.

    I don’t know about you but I’m fed up being told what to think by the little piggys in the Main Stream Media! Lately the way Media behaves “smacks” of manipulation. It’s time our elected leaders put a stop to it!

  4. Elmo

    They will get away with whatever we let them get away with. Or, as Jacques Brel is reputed to have said, If you let them, they will crochet the world the color of gooseshit,

  5. Trip C

    As someone who will be voting in California’s Republican primary on Tuesday, I have a few thoughts.

    First off, if I were to vote striclty based on who I want to see become president, it would be Paul, without a doubt. I’m a huge fan of almost all of his policy stances and more importantly, the issues he brings up are the issues that people need to be thinking more about.

    Initially, I didn’t like Huckabee at all, but after looking into the consumption tax idea a bit and hearing him a few more times lately, I’ve come to like him a lot more.

    And it’s a toss up for me between Romney and McCain. Both have qualities that I like and qualities that I don’t.

    Now, about the debate in particular:

    It seemed like everytime McCain tried to attack Romney, Romney had an appropriate and informative resonse. Every bad thing that McCain said about Romney ended up coming across as a baseless attack using distorted facts awkward interpretations. However, Romney was able to make a few good negative points about McCain that he wasn’t as able to respond to.

    And yeah, it was pretty goddamn obvious that they were intentionally preventing Huckabee and Paul from participating. This sucks, because I would have loved to hear more from both them, and while I doubt either of them will win, I think they could both have some positive influences on the directions the top two candidates go.

    But I did realize that, as much as I like Ron Paul, he doesn’t really talk in a way that is going to lead to the average American liking him. He speaks very factually, always mentioning Constitutional philosophical issues. He doesn’t speak in an emphatically motivating way. I think we’d all be better off if everyone thought a little bit more like him, but I don’t think he makes me feel all that excited about his candidacy, or all that confident that he can make things better. I think he’d have a lot more real of a chance if he had a more evocative public speaking style.

    And I know some people are pissed about the candidates not all getting equal time, but I don’t think legislation is what we need to fix the problem. The problem isn’t with the rules, it’s with the public. It’s with the fact that people don’t generally demand higher quality coverage from major news networks. If people would stop watching mainstream media and start reading more in depth news sources online, etc, then the mainstream media would have to change its style to keep viewers. But the public is stupid, and the media takes advantage of that just like every other form of business usually tries to do. It’s not wrong or evil, it just is.

  6. acf

    Romney’s feeling the pressure. He’s lapsing into Bushspeak* when forced to respond off script.

    * Bushspeak: Illogical statements punctuated by stumbling diction and pronunciation.

  7. LurkingFromTheLeft

    Plus, I can’t look or listen

    …to him without thinking of Max Headroom –

    …but then again –


  8. Carl Nemo

    my biorhythms relative to repub commentary…

    zzzzzuh….zzzzzzzzuh….zzzzzzzzzzuh….zzzzz… I-(

    Carl Nemo **==