HOWELL, Mich. – Republicans Mitt Romney and John McCain dueled Sunday over who could better lead a restoration of Michigan’s battered economy amid charges from each that the presidential campaign has descended into unnecessary pessimism and negativity that will do little to inspire voters.
Closing out the final weekend before the state’s Republican primary on Tuesday, Romney also traded criticisms with a third and surging rival in the contest, Mike Huckabee, over which of them was more honest about tax policies when each served as governor.
With the close primary contest considered a barometer of Romney’s political viability, after finishing second in Iowa and New Hampshire, the former Massachusetts governor criticized McCain for saying that some jobs just won’t be coming back to Michigan.
“The last thing you need in a state like Michigan is more pessimism, and if he’s saying those automotive jobs aren’t coming back, well how about the jobs that are still here?” Romney said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
Romney, a Michigan native, is the son of the late former Gov. George Romney, who also was chairman and president of the former American Motors Corp. from 1954 to 1962. Running a Michigan-centric campaign, he noted that he’s “got the automobile industry in my blood veins” and vowed an infusion of government research dollars into development of alternative fuels. He also criticized new federally mandated mileage standards without corresponding research money.
But McCain, appearing before a crowd of 600 people at a banquet hall in Howell, said he was “optimistic” about Michigan’s future and pledged similar help in providing government assistance for energy research that would create new jobs.
“I think we all know Michigan is in very bad shape,” the Arizona senator said. “I have strongly recommended that we understand that Michigan can lead the nation and the world again.”
McCain dismissed Romney’s characterization as “this old negative stuff that, frankly, he’s engaged in for a long time and it hasn’t worked, and I don’t think it works now.”
Romney labeled as “disingenuous” Huckabee TV ads promoting tax cuts that Huckabee implemented while serving as Arkansas governor. Romney maintained that even after Huckabee’s tax cuts, taxes rose in Arkansas by $500 million.
Citing a conservative economic group that has run attack ads, Romney said Huckabee’s “liberal on taxing. He’s liberal on spending. He was liberal on commutations for prisoners.”
But Huckabee told CNN’s “Late Edition” that “it’s almost sad to watch” Romney’s criticism when Romney raised fees in Massachusetts by “over a half-a-billion dollars.”
Huckabee acknowledged that taxes in Arkansas were increased under court order to improve education and that highway construction taxes also were increased. He said he had no apology for either.
Huckabee said Romney did an “admirable” job in some quarters but also led the restructuring of businesses that resulted in bonuses being paid to top officials while “a lot of people went home without a pension and a paycheck.”