By Holly Bailey
TAMPA, Fla.--John McCain has been marching into rallies to the theme from “Rocky” in recent weeks, and now we know why. With polls showing the senator virtually tied with Mitt Romney heading into tomorrow’s Florida primary, the race has become a total slugfest, getting uglier and uglier by the minute. The animosity between the McCain and Romney camps is well known, but these days, the two are not even trying to conceal their disdain for the other.
Today’s fight began just after sunrise, when Romney went after McCain’s record on campaign finance reform, immigration and global warming. “Look at the three things Sen. McCain has done as senator," Romney said. "If you want that kind of a liberal, democratic course as president, then you can vote for him. But those three pieces of legislation, those aren't conservative, those aren't Republican, those are not the kind of leadership we need as we go forward." Ouch.
Naturally, it didn’t take long for McCain to get word of what Romney had said. After his first event this morning, a roundtable in Jacksonville, McCain laughed sarcastically when asked to respond to Romney’s comment. “He is consistent,” McCain sneered. “He has consistently taken both sides of every major issue. He has consistently flip-flipped on every major issue.” Trying hard to keep a smile on his face, McCain cited Romney’s change of heart on immigration reform, efforts to prevent global warming and campaign finance reform, things he said Romney once supported. “People,” McCain said. “Just look at his record as governor. He has consistently taken two sides of every major issue, sometimes more than two. So congratulations.” Eek.
And that’s not even getting into the verbal warfare that’s been going on between the candidates’ aides all day. The biggest victim of it all: reporters covering the campaign, whose inboxes have been slammed with email after email from the campaigns fighting it out over who went negative first. “This is the McCain way,” wrote Romney spokesman Kevin Madden. “Senator McCain always sinks to a lower level and offers distortions and flailing attacks against his opponents… His agitation is always on display when a race gets close.” Asked by reporters traveling with McCain to respond, Mark Salter, McCain’s longtime senior aide, accused Romney of starting a “tidal wave of negativity.”
During a break between campaigning today in Orlando, McCain granted an interview to the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody who asked the senator point blank if he liked Romney. “I don’t know him well personally,” replied McCain, who went on to speak at length about how much he likes Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani. “I’ve gotten to know these other candidates and gotten to like them very much. I just haven’t gotten to know Governor Romney.” Yeah, that sounds like a no.