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Published: Thursday, 1/31/2008

McCain, Romney feud bitterly in Republican debate

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. - In the Republicans' latest presidential debate, John McCain and Mitt Romney kept up their bitter feud, with Mr. Romney calling some of Mr. McCain's views "outside the mainstream of conservative Republican thought."

Mr. Romney criticized numerous pieces of legislation that Mr. McCain has introduced in the Senate, most with Democratic cosponsors, on such topics as illegal immigration, campaign-finance reform, and controlling of greenhouse-gas emissions.

Mr. McCain, the Republican front-runner from Arizona, replied: "I'm proud of reaching across the aisle and getting things done.

"That's what the American people want us to do."

The debate, just days before the multistate Super Tuesday contests, was held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, with the candidates seated in front of the airplane that served as Air Force One during the eight years Mr. Reagan was president.

In one particularly tense exchange, Mr. McCain and Mr. Romney reprised their bitter dispute from the Florida campaign over comments Mr. Romney made in an April, 2007, TV interview about the war in Iraq.

That interview, Mr. McCain alleged, indicated that the former Massachusetts governor favored secret timetables for withdrawing U.S. troops.

Mr. Romney, Mr. McCain's prime challenger, said that he meant no such thing - that he didn't talk about a schedule for withdrawal and never has - and that Mr. McCain's raising the issue a few days before last Tuesday's pivotal Florida primary represented "the kind of dirty tricks that Ronald Reagan would have found reprehensible."

Mr. McCain - who won in Florida - refused to back down, saying that the real issue was whether Mr. Romney has "the experience and judgment" to lead the country in a time of war.

The Romney-McCain back-and-forth dominated the

90-minute debate on CNN, much to the frustration of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who was in the spotlight following his win in the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses but hasn't been getting much attention lately.

"It's not a two-man race," Mr. Huckabee said, adding that he has a solid conservative record of his own. "There's another guy here on the far right of the table."

Actually, there was a fourth candidate at the table. But Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also was all but ignored for most of the night.

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

Before the debate, at a news conference on site, Rudy Giuliani formally withdrew from the Republican race and endorsed Mr. McCain.

During the debate, Mr. Romney, trying to raise questions about Mr. McCain's claim to be a solid conservative, pointed out that the Arizona senator has won the endorsement of a number of newspapers with liberal editorial pages.

"If you get endorsed by the New York Times, you're probably not a conservative," Mr. Romney said.

Mr. McCain then shot back, with a smile: "Let me note that I was endorsed by your two hometown newspapers, who know you best, including the very conservative Boston Herald. And I guarantee you the Arizona Republic will be endorsing me, my friend."



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