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Romney-McCain sniping intensifies

December 28, 2007 |  9:35 pm

John McCain's antipathy for Mitt Romney -- a distaste that goes beyond the normal bristling between highly competitive presidential candidates -- has been obvious for some time.

Back in the spring, even as his own campaign was short-circuiting, McCain barbs sparked by Romney's multiple position reversals carried particular venom. And last month, during the Republican YouTube debate, McCain's disdain for and disgust with Romney as they sparred over waterboarding -- as in, is it torture? -- was palpable. Here's a memory refresher (and note how McCain avoids even looking in his rival's direction).

On Friday, the chill between the two deepened.

As the McCain crew roused itself in New Hampshire, where its man has crept up in most polls, Romney was ready with a new television ad targeting him. After the spot's voiceover narrator praises McCain (calling him "an honorable man"), he then seeks to bury him, scolding the Arizona senator ...

on taxes and illegal immigration, hot-button issues for the GOP base.

Part of the script: "McCain pushed to let every illegal immigrant stay here permanently, and even voted to allow illegals to collect Social Security." (See the ad here, in its entirety.)

These assertions skated over a few details. As The Times' Maeve Reston, who is camped in New Hampshire, noted in a dispatch, controversial legislation McCain backed earlier this year called for illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. the two previous years to leave. And to collect Social Security payments based on payroll taxes they already paid, Illegal immigrants first would have to become citizens.

Various McCain aides, as well as the candidate himself, vented about the ad. Ultimately, the campaign pulled together its own short, not-so-sweet spot. It steers away from any point-by-point response to the Romney claims, settling for lambasting him on general principles. (See it here.)

Late in the day, Romney's chief spokesman, Kevin Madden, put in his two cents. McCain, he said in a statement, “has a troubling history of neglecting substantive issues and getting personal in his attacks against those who happen to disagree with him. It’s the McCain way."

The Romney campaign also composed this release ("The Straight Talk Detour").

The back-and-forth no doubt will continue. And the already very, very, very long odds against a McCain/Romney ticket (or vice versa) will grow even more.

On the Iowa front, Romney launched another attack that had a different target -- Mike Huckabee. The Times' Michael Finnegan and Joe Mathews wrapup the GOP battle here.

-- Don Frederick

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