Romney, McCain clash in debate


Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney speaks with Chris Wallace on "FOX News Sunday" in Manchester, N.H.

The Associated Press
Published: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 7, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Mitt Romney and John McCain sparred Sunday over their tax and spending records and who was a better agent for change, in the second Republican debate of the final weekend before the New Hampshire primary.

"You have a choice,'' Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, said after ticking off his accomplishments in office. "You can select somebody who wants to fight for those things, or you can select somebody who's actually done those things.''

McCain, a senator from Arizona, listed the pork-barrel spending he has exposed, as well as an Air Force tanker contract he squashed. "I think it was a reason why I wasn't elected Miss Congeniality in the Senate,'' McCain said. "I have a record of saving billions of dollars.''

Wide open and intense, the race for the Republican nomination has gotten ever tighter ahead of Tuesday's voting. A new USA Today/Gallup poll showed the Republican race tied in New Hampshire.

McCain had the support of 34 percent of likely voters, up from 27 percent in mid-December. Romney was at 30 percent, down from 34 percent, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee - the Iowa caucus winner - was third at 13 percent. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani had 8 percent, while former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson was in the low single digits.

Sitting elbow-to-elbow in a studio on the campus of St. Anselm College, Romney and McCain renewed a debate they have been conducting at long distance about who is better equipped to bring change to Washington.

Citing his record as a venture capitalist, Olympics CEO and governor, Romney said, "I've been in the economy. I've been in the real world.''

McCain said: "I led the largest squadron in the U.S. Navy, not for profit but for patriotism.''

Thompson jumped into the exchange, mocking Romney for saying the next president did not have to be a foreign policy expert so long as he was a good manager.

"My friend Mitt thinks expertise is important in all areas except national security,'' he said with a sly smile.

Thompson and Giuliani also scoffed at the notion that change should dominate the political debate - as Thompson noted, just because Iowans said so in their caucuses last week.

Giuliani added, "Change is a slogan, and the examination has to be is it change for good or change for bad?''

Romney and Huckabee had several prickly exchanges.

At one point, Romney asked Huckabee a question as the former governor was responding to one posed by moderator Chris Wallace. Huckabee said he preferred to speak through the moderator.

Romney also prodded Huckabee about whether spending had increased during his decade as governor of Arkansas.

"You make up facts faster than you can talk sometimes,'' Romney said as Huckabee avoided giving a direct answer.

Huckabee said: "I had a court order that said we had to improve education.''

Huckabee spoke of "a brotherhood'' of sorts with McCain, fueled by Romney's criticism.

"We have both been brutally assaulted by Governor Romney with amazingly misleading ads that attacked and distorted and misrepresented our records, Romney attacking me in Iowa, attacking him in New Hampshire,'' the former governor said.

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