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Romney accuses McCain of adopting a Nixon-style campaign tactic
Republicans Debate 5680030
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, answers a question as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney reacts during a Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif., Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    LONG BEACH, Calif. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday accused his rival John McCain of adopting underhanded tactics from Richard Nixon, the GOP president who resigned in disgrace.
    ‘‘I don’t think I want to see our party go back to that kind of campaigning,’’ Romney said in his most pointed rebuttal yet to front-runner McCain’s claim that the former Massachusetts governor favors a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Romney denies this charge and most media analyses have concluded that Romney wasn’t using ‘timetable’ in the same way Democratic candidates have.
    McCain’s decision to level the timetable charge this week without leaving Romney time to rebut it before Florida Republicans voted in their primary ‘‘was reminiscent of the Nixon era,’’ Romney said. McCain ended up winning the Florida contest Tuesday.
    Despite the incendiary reference to Nixon, Romney said of McCain: ‘‘I think he’s a man of character.’’ But he added: ‘‘I think he took a sharp detour off the ‘Straight Talk Express,’’’ — the name of the Arizona senator’s campaign bus.
    McCain adviser Steve Schmidt responded that Romney ‘‘is lashing out because he’s unable to defend his comments about a timeline, albeit a secret one ... . John McCain has simply pointed out a fundamental difference between them at the time when John McCain was advocating a strategy for victory.’’
    A prominent Romney surrogate, former House Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois, also chimed in Thursday with a reference to McCain’s own scandal history. Hastert told reporters that he had worked with McCain on legislation early in his congressional career but ‘‘after the Keating Five scandal, he changed.’’ By contrast, Hastert said Romney has ‘‘never been involved in scandal.’’
    McCain was one of five senators involved in the Keating Five savings-and-loan scandal. The Senate Ethics Committee cited McCain for ‘‘poor judgment’’ but recommended no further action.
    Both camps readied ad campaigns for the Super Tuesday contests in 21 states. Both called the buys significant, but it was not immediately clear just how far-reaching they would be.
    At this point, Romney is preparing to run $2 million to $3 million worth of ads for five days in most media markets in California and either on cable channels or local networks targeted to other key states, according to aides with knowledge of the deliberations who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans were not final.
    McCain aides said he, too, was preparing to run a high volume of commercials on national cable channels and in key states.
    But was no immediate dollar figure for McCain’s buys and no detail on where Romney’s spending will land. A substantial weeklong broadcast campaign throughout California can cost $3 million or more. Running ads coast to coast is even more expensive, so both campaigns were choosing states or districts they think they can win.
    Romney is trying to get back on track after two losses to McCain in South Carolina and Florida. The Florida victory gave McCain a lead in the delegate count as well as the momentum in the GOP race.
    After seven contests, Romney is down 83-59, with 1,191 delegates needed for the nomination and 1,023 at stake Tuesday.
    California offers 170 delegates Tuesday; candidates are awarded three for each congressional district they win. McCain is leading in California polls, but Romney aides think he can win some districts.
    Romney will run an ad in California starting Friday in which he portrays himself as the Republican most able to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.
    ‘‘She hasn’t run a corner store. She hasn’t run a state. She hasn’t run a city,’’ Romney says in the ad. ‘‘I have spent my life running things. I’ve learned how to run a business. I’ve learned how to run a state. I ran the Olympics. In each case I’ve brought change.’’
    During a news conference later Thursday, Romney predicted he, not McCain, would benefit when GOP voters think about the general election. ‘‘People are going to stop and say, ‘Who is going to post up best against Hillary Clinton, who is going to post up best against Barack Obama, who can talk about change, who can talk about the future, who represents the past, and who represents the future?’’’
    Later, amid signs complaining about illegal immigration, Romney told rally-goers in San Diego: ‘‘I love legal immigration. It’s a great source of vitality. ... But when people just simply overstay visas or come across the border uninvited, that’s something that’s got to end - and I will end it.’’
    Romney’s strategy calls for seeking votes in states with heavy concentrations of Romney’s fellow Mormons: California, Arizona, and Utah, home of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
    Romney, trying to become the first Mormon elected president, will attend the funeral of the church President Gordon B. Hinckley on Saturday in Utah. He will also campaign Friday in Colorado, followed by visits to Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri, key Midwestern battlegrounds. In Missouri, a classic swing state, Romney enjoys the strong support of Gov. Matt Blunt.
    Also on the tentative schedule were Tennessee and Georgia, Southern states where Romney has shown strength. Romney was likely to bypass delegate-rich New York and New Jersey after former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided to drop out of the race and support McCain.
    Romney’s home state of Massachusetts also votes Tuesday. His campaign tentatively planned to receive the Super Tuesday returns there. If he were to fail, Boston would be the most likely sight of his campaign goodbye.
    Along with targeted ads, McCain is planning to rely on momentum and free news coverage that comes with it by holding rallies and news conferences in California and big winner-take-all delegates states, including New York. McCain picked up the endorsement of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday, an event sure to garner loads of publicity.
    With winner-take-all states his first priority, McCain’s tentative travel schedule calls for him to travel coast to coast for general-election style rallies in Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
    Associated Press writer Liz Sidoti contributed to this report.

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