By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2007
CONCORD, N.H., Nov. 25 -- With Rudolph W. Giuliani looking to spring a surprise against Mitt Romney in the state hosting the nation's first primary, the race for the Republican presidential nomination took a sharply negative turn here Sunday as the two candidates traded accusations about taxes, crime, immigration, abortion and ethical standards.
The rhetorical volleys underscored the growing stakes here in New Hampshire, where Romney leads in the polls but Giuliani now believes he has a chance to derail the former Massachusetts governor's campaign before it can build the kind of momentum that could make him unstoppable.
Leading in national polls, Giuliani had long appeared to be playing down the importance of early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire in favor of the bigger states that hold their contests in late January and early February. But he said in an interview Saturday that he intends to win here. "We think we can catch him and get ahead of him," he said of Romney.
Romney responded by tweaking the former New York mayor, saying Giuliani sounded increasingly worried about losing the nomination. "He's not in the top three in Iowa, and he's not in the first two in New Hampshire, so desperate times for Mayor Giuliani call for desperate efforts," he said before leaving Concord for campaign events in western New Hampshire.
Romney dramatically escalated the attacks Sunday with a salvo at Giuliani, who had earlier criticized him over a judicial appointee who had overruled a lower court and ordered the release of a convicted killer, who has since been charged with another killing. Romney has called on the judge to resign. With his wife, Ann, and other members of his family at his side, he said it is essential for Republicans to pick a nominee "who can distinguish himself on family values" from the Democratic front-runner, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.).
He then proceeded to link Giuliani to Clinton on abortion, gay rights and immigration, and ended with tough words for the former mayor's support for former New York police commissioner Bernard B. Kerik to be secretary of homeland security. Kerik, a longtime friend and confidant of Giuliani's, was recently indicted on multiple corruption charges.
"I believe it's important for someone to be pro-life, to be pro-family and pro-traditional marriage, to be in favor of legal immigration but against illegal immigration and to have a record of insisting on the highest ethical standards, and I'm afraid that on all four of those measures that Mayor Giuliani would be the wrong course for our party," Romney said. "He is in the same position as Hillary Clinton on life and on marriage and on the ethical history of his administration, and also on sanctuary cities and immigration policy."
Giuliani's weekend assault on Romney went well beyond the matter of a controversial judicial appointment. During an interview aboard his campaign bus on Saturday, Giuliani belittled Romney's claims to be a committed conservative and accused his rival of turning his back on his "one" notable accomplishment: expanding health care to cover all citizens of his state.
"When you look back on Romney's governorship of Massachusetts, there's only one accomplishment, and he's running away from that," Giuliani said as the bus rolled through New Hampshire.
"I don't see where he's going to make the claim to being particularly conservative as the governor of Massachusetts," Giuliani said. "I can certainly make the claim quite accurately at being the most successful at reducing crime of any mayor in the country, probably in history."
With former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee gaining in Iowa, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) clinging to some of the support he enjoyed in New Hampshire when he won here eight years ago, and former senator Fred D. Thompson (Tenn.) increasingly on the attack, the Republican race has taken on the feel of a five-ring circus.
Romney leads public polls in both Iowa and New Hampshire, while Giuliani and Thompson are essentially tied for third behind Huckabee in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll of Iowa Republicans. In New Hampshire, recent polls show Giuliani and McCain statistically tied for second place.
Throughout the campaign, Giuliani's advisers have outlined a strategy that they said could overcome early losses to Romney in Iowa and New Hampshire with victories in subsequent contests in Florida, New York, New Jersey and Illinois. But Giuliani expressed little interest in putting that theory to the test unless absolutely necessary.
"It is not inconceivable that you could, if you won Florida [after losing in the early states], turn the whole thing around," Giuliani said. "I'd rather not do it that way. That would create ulcers for my entire staff and for me. . . . We want to win as many of the early ones as possible. That's why we're here and not in Florida right now."
Giuliani was dismissive of the other leading Republican candidates, particularly Thompson. Asked about Thompson's criticism that he spends too much time talking about his record in New York, Giuliani laughed.
"I will not really respond to Fred, because it might discourage him from campaigning, and he's doing so little of it I don't want to discourage him," he said, taking a shot at Thompson's reputation as a less-than-frenetic campaigner. "It's okay. Fred can say what he wants."
But his toughest comments were reserved for Romney. "Nobody thought of him as a fiscal conservative," Giuliani said. "People did think of me as a fiscal conservative. Romney says he tried to lower taxes. I give him credit for that. But he never accomplished it. I did accomplish it. . . . He wasn't particularly good at reducing crime. I was the most effective in the country at reducing crime. Murder went up when he was governor. Robbery went up. Violent crimes went up."
Romney accused Giuliani of mangling his facts. "He's got a real problem checking facts," Romney said during a Sunday afternoon interview, arguing that violent crime in Massachusetts declined 7 percent while he was governor. Giuliani aides immediately challenged that assertion.
On health care, Giuliani challenged Romney to stand behind the plan enacted while he was governor, which mandates health care for all individuals in Massachusetts. "The oddest thing is he doesn't want to do for America what he did for Massachusetts," he said, laughing. "He did mandate health care for Massachusetts, which is Hillary Care, and he doesn't want to do that for America."
"I was just across the country this week talking about my plan," Romney said in response. "I'm very proud of my health-care plan and think it should be a model for other states to adopt." Giuliani, he noted, has not yet laid out details of how he would address concerns about the health-care system.
Romney insisted that his decision to talk about family values on Sunday had nothing to do with the personal life of a rival who has been married three times. He said he was angry that Giuliani had used the judicial controversy to attack him after he had refrained from personally criticizing Giuliani over Kerik's indictment. "I must admit that of all the people who might attack someone on the basis of an appointment, I thought he would be the last to do so," Romney said.