Sparring Between McCain and Romney

The tension between John McCain and Mitt Romney has spilled over into public display this past week, beginning with the former governor’s comments that he is “the only real Republican” in the race and speaks for the “Republican wing of the Republican party”. Intended to spotlight Rudy Giuliani’s liberal social views, Romney’s remarks provoked a fervent response from McCain, who said the following:

“When Governor Romney donated money to a Democratic candidate in New Hampshire, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans. When he voted for a Democratic candidate for president, Paul Tsongas, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans. When he refused to endorse the Contract with America, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans. And when he was embracing the Democratic position on many issues of the day, I don’t think he was speaking for Republicans.”

McCain made the preceding remarks in, guess where, New Hampshire.  The Granite State is his Waterloo, where voters place him in third place in recent polls.  By doling out harsh criticism aimed at Romney, the faltering front-runner in the state, McCain hopes to boost his own support.  Is McCain’s strategy likely to work?  Romney’s support is soft, only 37% in NH strongly support him according to the latest Marist poll.  However, Romney supporters are much more likely to flock to Giuliani over McCain – 47% have the former mayor as their second choice, only 25% for McCain.  The real beneficiary of the McCain-Romney tiff is Giuliani, who gets to stand above the fray while the others battle it out.

Four years ago, Dick Gephardt and Howard Dean engaged in their own war of words, the verbal sparring leaving many Iowan voters disgusted with the both of them.  The caucus-goers found alternatives,  leading to a Kerry-Edwards one-two finish.  A similar situation may replay this time around in New Hampshire.

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