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Romney offers himself as a D.C. outsider

January 6, 2008 |  3:18 pm

Manchester, N.H. -- Mitt Romney took his fair share of abuse at Saturday night's debate among the Republican presidential candidates (and may get heaped upon again at tonight's nationally televised forum). So perhaps it was only natural that today -- during his one public rally -- he decried what he characterized as "the partisanship and the bickering and the score-settling and the insult-hurling" that marks politics in Washington.

"I believe it's high time for someone to go to Washington who's focused on helping the people rather than just helping his or her party," Romney said to applause.

He made his remarks in Nashua, N.H., to a crowd of several hundred in a school cafeteria and, The Times' Michael Finnegan reports, he continued to press his new effort to portray John McCain as a Washington insider (which would be a bit of a makeover for his rival in the GOP race, who often charts his own course in the nation's capital).

Romney described McCain and another Republican opponent, former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, as "the guys who've been around forever." (True enough for McCain; he first went to Congress in 1983. Thompson, though, served only about eight years and did not seek reelection in 2002; perhaps Romney was referring to the ubiquity of "Law & Order" reruns.)

Romney's line of attack ...

caused him to say something nice about Mike Huckabee, who this time last week -- as the Iowa caucuses approached -- was his target.

He and Huckabee, Romney said to his New Hampshire listeners, represented new energy and new ideas. It was because of that, he said, that Huckabee won in Iowa while he finished second (a positive spin on a disappointing showing for him). And it was also because of that, he went on, that Barack Obama defeated the Washington insiders in the Democratic race -- Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Chris Dodd.

Doing his best to envelop himself in the word of the moment, Romney said Americans are "looking for change, and change is what we're going to give 'em."

Romney can afford to take a different tack toward Huckabee; the former Arkansas governor is given little chance of winning New Hampshire's Tuesday primary. But he can ill afford for McCain to win it. So Romney pressed his most tried-and-true argument against his main foe here, assaulting him for supporting legislation that would have allowed millions of illegal immigrants to seek citizenship.

"In my opinion, that's a form of amnesty," Romney said. "In my opinion, that is wrong. That will only encourage more illegal immigration. It's time to stop illegal immigration."

The crowd burst into applause.

-- Don Frederick