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McCain vs Romney: Round Two

For the first six months of this year, the narrative that dominated the Republican presidential race was the behind-the-scenes battle between Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former Gov. Mitt Romney (Mass.)

Each man viewed the other as his main rival for the nomination -- both men underestimated the staying power of former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani -- and their respective campaign didn't let a day go by without passing along a research document or parsed quote that showed their rival in a less than flattering light.

The decline and fall of McCain's campaign over the summer put this back-and-forth on the back burner as Romney turned his rhetorical fire on Giuliani and McCain fought to stay in the race.

But, over the weekend, the ill will reemerged.

At a media availability in Sparks, Nevada, on Friday, Romney was asked how he could bring the conservative base together if he was the nominee. He answered that as he has traveled the country "conservatives in these states have heard me time and again [and] recognized that I do speak for the, if you will, the Republican wing of the Republican party and that the base Republican voter wants to see a conservative that will unite the three legs of the Republican stool."

While that remark was clearly aimed at Giuliani's social conservative bona fides (or lack thereof), it was McCain who quickly rose to the bait in a speech to the New Hampshire Republican Party on Saturday,

"When he ran for office in Massachusetts, being a Republican wasn't much of a priority for him," McCain said of Romney. "In fact, when he ran against Ted Kennedy, he said he didn't want to return to the days of Reagan-Bush. I always though Ronald Reagan was a real Republican."

McCain went on to note that Romney gave money to a Democratic candidate in New Hampshire, voted for Democratic Sen. Paul Tsongas for president and refused to sign the "Contract With America" -- all of which, the Arizona Senator argued, was evidence that his claims as the real Republicans were false. (None of those accusations are new. But, what is new is the willingness of one of Romney's rivals to put voice to them in a public way.)

Romney's campaign wouldn't let those comments pass without pushing back. "Angry attacks from campaigns without any new ideas on how to bring change to Washington aren't what voters are looking for," said Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. Then he stuck in the shiv: "There are obvious differences with Senator McCain, notably his wrongheaded approach on immigration, his support of campaign finance reform that has stifled free speech and his joining Democrats to vote against the Bush tax cuts."

A couple points of context are important here.

First, it's no secret that their is no love lost between McCain and Romney. It's not clear whether the dislike is personal or purely political but it's there and makes each man more willing to take pot shots at the other.

Second, McCain's campaign begins and ends in New Hampshire. While his numbers have sunk in places like Iowa and South Carolina, he remains in the game in the Granite State; a new Marist poll released over the weekend put him in third place with 17 percent behind Romney at 26 percent and Giuliani with 20 percent.

So, while McCain is a second-tier candidate everywhere else, he's still clearly a first-tier candidate in New Hampshire and has the potential to do real damage to Romney there.

If McCain continues to pursue such an aggressive line against Romney, the real winner is Giuliani who also views New Hampshire as his best chance for a victory in the early states. Giuliani has gone out of his way to praise McCain in the debates and regularly refers to him as a friend. If McCain is willing to take the fight to Romney, it allows Giuliani to remain above the fray and, likely, avoid coming under serious attack in his own right.

History provides an interesting lesson here. In the 2004 Democratic presidential race, Rep. Dick Gephardt (Mo.) and former Gov. Howard Dean (Vt.) engaged in an extended television war in Iowa that amounted to mutually assured destruction for both men who watched as Sens. John Kerry (Mass.) and John Edwards (N.C.) shot the gap into first and second place, respectively.

Romney must find a way to avoid a similar fate. He needs to answer McCain without turning this into an ugly brawl that will only accrue to Giuliani's benefit in the long run. The broader nomination fight still seems a contest between Giuliani and Romney and the former Massachusetts governor needs to keep his eye on the ball.

By Chris Cillizza  |  October 15, 2007; 2:02 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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Next: Ohio's 16th District: GOP Hits Just Keep Coming


Chris, one would have to ask McCain why he is still in this thing...I think he has more to offer American from his bully pulpit in the Senate...the second question is Chris from reading the garbage you continue to post, why haven't you threw in the towel as well...

Posted by: nquotes | October 19, 2007 1:26 AM | Report abuse

This is a follow-up to my having viewed the
Paul v. Clinton video. Late last night I read Paul's 2004 Petition, which can be found on line. I recommend it. I could not find any of the Clinton responsive documents on line.

The lawsuit has several bases. It is heavy on pleading communications with and among intermediaries and light on pleading communications between principals. Paul pleads by inference his own naivete throughout.

The pleading of HRC's failure to properly or completely report Paul's contributions is woven in as relevant to Paul's case to make the Clintons knowing active parties to the machinations to defraud him.

Prior experience says that the FEC would treat a $2m failure to report as correctable by a refund.

As a slice of doing business in Hollywood, the case is a classic. Could it bite HRC?
maybe. But I suspect it will not bite very hard, because the campaign finance laws are enforced by a "bipartisan" commission that
will not let any R or D to be seriously punished.

If this matter goes to a jury with the Clintons, or either of them, as parties, it will be quite a spectacle.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 16, 2007 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Ladies and Gentlemen let me introduce the Republican ticket for 2008.....Rudy and McCain......if Rudy can avoid this political dog fight between Romney and McCain, where McCain is the one who will make the most gains and Romney will lose the can see the man from New York picking up the nomination and McCain as Vice-President.....and with McCain as a strong foundation in the Republican base and with Rudy as the Republican who can win democratic votes.......I can see a Clinton-Barack ticket up against a Rudy McCain ticket making the general really interesting for us mere observers of US Politics

Posted by: andrew_r_a_wilson | October 15, 2007 11:47 PM | Report abuse

What qualities would the ideal Republican candidate have? a. fiscal conservative b. protector of constitution c. defender of pro-life d. evangelical born again e. neoconservative world domination f. all of the above.
Obviously, the 2008 election is not a repeat of Bush vs. Gore because of the unpopular Iraq "war on terrorism".
Given that Bush vs. Gore was so close in the popular 2000 vote, and Bush vs. Kerry was close in the 2004 electoral vote, how can Republicans hold their noses to elect someone who is not an ideal candidate? From what I read in the news, I don't get the warm fuzzy feeling that anyone of the Republican candidates is electable. The unpopularity of the Iraq "war on terrorism" has not produced any favorable outcome for Iraq nor the U.S. strategic interest, namely a reliable oil producer.

Posted by: rmorris391 | October 15, 2007 7:08 PM | Report abuse

"conservatives in these states have heard me time and again [and] recognized that I do speak for the, if you will, the Republican wing of the Republican party and that the base Republican voter wants to see a conservative that will unite the three legs of the Republican stool." -Romney

That actually makes me a little ill. I'd hate to think that anybody really viewed a Christian (I know he's Mormon but he's trying to position himself as a Christian) conservative as the Republican wing of the Republican party. I'd much rather see a fiscally conservative, states rights, fellow as the nominee than someone who will expand the federal governments power into a uterus.

I never thought I'd miss Newt Gingrich.

Posted by: JasonL_in_MD | October 15, 2007 6:32 PM | Report abuse

braddahmj, What exactly are you referring to in your characterization of John McCain when you say he "fail(s) in the family department" ??? You apparently know nothing of the man or the candidate, and prefer to spout Romney campaign slogans rather than support someone based on their principle and character.

Also, I beg to differ with your conclusion that Gov. Romney is the "most complete" R candidate. He was fairly complete when he ran to the left of Ted Kennedy for the governorship of a liberal state, and having accomplished that, quickly did an about-face on key issues just in time to start his national campaign.

When it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, John McCain has served this country with distinction and principle for decades and was named as one of the "25 Most Influential People in America". He is revered by moderates and independents as a man of character who is ready to lead on day one.

In contrast, Romney has served his own interests and that of his boundless ambition for decades, and bankrolls his mechanical, yet somehow polished, campaign largely from his own pockets, not from some vast support of Americans. He will not garner moderate or independent support, and his pandering to the far right will only assure that.

Posted by: proudtobeGOP | October 15, 2007 5:53 PM | Report abuse

"... but commenters-on-bloggers, not so much, it seems..."

Guess that makes me the Jon Stewart of this blog, apparently.

Posted by: judgeccrater | October 15, 2007 5:26 PM | Report abuse

"The thing is, only Brownback is really a true conservative out there (without being seen, accrately or not, as a fringe candidate)."

No, I believe Brownback is pretty widely viewed as a fringe candidate. Isn't he a creationist?

Posted by: nshafroth | October 15, 2007 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Zouk, I just spent my coffee break watching that Paul v. Clinton video, and it is very interesting. Thank you.

This is a theory to throw against the wall and see what sticks: if NH Rs like Romney and Giuliani so much, it may be because they have moderate credentials, even if they are running away from them now. Boko says Romney did not so much get along with his D Legislature as succumb to it, but maybe it looks like leadership in nearby NH. We know RG worked within a D establishment in NYC, and so do voters in NH. I am guessing the "Dobsons" are not big in NH.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | October 15, 2007 4:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh sure, there's plenty of smart bloggers, but commenters-on-bloggers, not so much, it seems. The soft bigotry of low expectations, you know.

Posted by: Jenn2 | October 15, 2007 4:49 PM | Report abuse

"Judge, you're too smart for this bar. You should get your own column. I'd read it a heck of a lot faster than I'd read Novak..."

Jenn2, I don't know why people ever say this. There are plenty of smart bloggers out there, Greenwald being first and foremost. And he has a bunch of links you can follow to find equally smart commentary.

'sides, I have a day job.

Posted by: judgeccrater | October 15, 2007 4:42 PM | Report abuse

Romney has always campaigned on the three legs of the Republican party (strong military, economy and families). So tell me where are McCain & Giuliani in these three areas? Mitt is the only one that is strong in all three areas. McCain and Giuliani fail in the family department. McCain is the lesser in the economy part as well. Just like Giuliani's riding 9/11, McCain is riding his military service. It does him well, but only up to a point. It is an interesting conspiracy theory of the Giuliani/McCain card...but then doesn't quite motivate the third leg...or the values voter. Romney has his challenges in the values dept., as some won't be able to look past his religion, but he really is the most complete in those three areas of conservative Republicans.

Posted by: braddahmj | October 15, 2007 4:18 PM | Report abuse

JD, the media is definitely trying to be a fight promoter. But not just against Giuliani, in general. Look at the language in the article: The behind-the-scenes battle is an ugly brawl during this nomination fight!

Politics is always covered like a horse race or a boxing match. Candidates never disagree or criticize each others' positions; they're always attacking and taking pot shots and smearing each other. Everything has to be worded to imply the maximum amount of violence and excitement; otherwise readers will get bored.

Posted by: Blarg | October 15, 2007 3:40 PM | Report abuse

When was the last time we had such a wide-open Republican nomination? In the past it's been whoever's "turn" it is. McCain's implosion has seemingly changed this tic in the Republican race. (granted it might not have been Bush's turn in 2000, but it was clear it was his race to lose long before the first ballot was cast)

But about Romney and Guiliani, neither have bullet-proof Republican credentials, both have non-traditional Republican aspects in their present (Guilanai - pro-life and gun-control) or immediate past (Romney - pro-gay rights, pro-choice, etc.) McCain comes in as a 'truer' conservative, and that's my guess as to how he's staying alive in NH. But his position on immigration is not in line with current right-wing thinking. He doesn't seem to be running away with the war vote (pro) either.

The thing is, only Brownback is really a true conservative out there (without being seen, accrately or not, as a fringe candidate). I don't know whey all the conservatives are not behind him.

Posted by: mscherger | October 15, 2007 3:36 PM | Report abuse

I'm not sure they still underestimate Guiliani's staying power, I think the more interesting angle is that maybe this shows Guiliani has cemented his front-runner status, and now the race is on to crown the anti-Guiliani.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | October 15, 2007 3:22 PM | Report abuse

It seems Edwards has scored the SEIU endorsement for Iowa. That should mean a good amount of dedicated voters and ground workers for Edwards. I don't really know how much this will help in the long run but it definitly doesn't hurt his cause.

Posted by: AndyR3 | October 15, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Judge, you're too smart for this bar. You should get your own column. I'd read it a heck of a lot faster than I'd read Novak...

Posted by: Jenn2 | October 15, 2007 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Why do I think that the MSM is trying to be a fight promoter, regarding Guliani and his supposed lack of support from the hardcore conservatives in the GOP. Read Novak in today's WaPo for more discussion about this.

Seems to me that the republicans are unlikely to follow Dobson et al off that cliff, especially if the alternative is HRC. My guess is they learned the lessons of the Nader Factor in '00, better even than the Dems (if they stay at home because of the Iraq non-pullout they thought they were mandating in '06, as has been suggested elsewhere).

Posted by: JD | October 15, 2007 2:35 PM | Report abuse

don't look now hillary, that blue dress that caught your hubby in a lie has morphed into a video that will catch you in a giant felony.

Posted by: kingofzouk | October 15, 2007 2:27 PM | Report abuse

The Republican party is coming a part at the seams. They have no record to run on, a criminal (in Bush) leading the party and a slate of Presidential hopefuls that leave the Democrats down right giddy.

Posted by: Lang20001 | October 15, 2007 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I just can't beleive that he said this "I do speak for the, if you will, the Republican wing of the Republican party"

If I were McCain I would say "You know someone last election said the same thing about the Democratic party, and he came in third in Iowa. So I guess Romney sees himself as the GOP version of Howard Dean."

Also I agree with Judge the best way to deal with this is say what Hillary's campaign does "(insert candidate name here)'s campaign is floundering and so they attack, its an old trick that won't work blah blah blah." It now becomes a non-story. The truth is though that Romney KNOWS that he isn't a true republican and so therefore lasshes out when people call him out.

Kind of like another guy who used to work for his campaign and is the standing senator from Idaho.

Posted by: AndyR3 | October 15, 2007 2:25 PM | Report abuse

"Now, if the Straight Talk Express can achieve the same 'brawl' with Guiliani, McCain's campaign may yet rise from the grave and walk among the living."

I'm thinking along the same lines. McCain needs to find a way to get Giuliani & Romney take each other out.

Posted by: bsimon | October 15, 2007 2:23 PM | Report abuse

"Romney must find a way to avoid a similar fate. He needs to answer McCain without turning this into an ugly brawl..."

And the answer is: shut up. Rescued from obscurity, McCain benefits from the free publicity when Romney treats him as a suddenly legitimate contender. Romney needs to focus on Guiliani and ignore McCain as much as he can. Both he and Guiliani are probably far too thin-skinned to do that, of course, so McCain's needling will keep finding its mark because Romney allows it to. Now, if the Straight Talk Express can achieve the same 'brawl' with Guiliani, McCain's campaign may yet rise from the grave and walk among the living.

Posted by: judgeccrater | October 15, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

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