Feuding presidential campaigns escalated their engagement over the weekend in a fresh reminder that with the Iowa caucuses a little more than a month away, campaigns are ready to go to the mats.
Whether the GOP candidates themselves threw the punches or if they came via campaign press release, the exchanges between the campaigns were rapid and fierce. The sharp words between former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney focused on several issues, including each other's records on spending, reducing crime and health care.
Romney warned Giuliani would be "the wrong course" for the Republican Party because he holds liberal views similar to Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., on abortion and immigration. The Giuliani campaign countered that Romney is in attack mode because he accomplished little during his one term as governor of Massachusetts. Giuliani gladly gave Romney credit, however, for passing a universal health care bill in the state since conservatives who dominate the Republican nominating contest would prefer a free-market approach to health care. The Giuliani campaign also points out that Romney's stepped up aggressiveness comes at time when the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll shows former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee closing in on Romney's lead in Iowa.
GOP Rivals Launch Attack on Records
In one of the sharpest assaults of the GOP contest so far, Romney's campaign manager Matt Rhoades said "the nasty side" of Giuliani has gotten the better of him, a hint at Giuliani's famous temper.
The sharps words began Saturday when Romney lumped Giuliani into a critique of the leading Democratic presidential candidates on spending and taxes. Stumping in New Hampshire, Romney referred to Giuliani as a friend and "a good man," before saying the former mayor has "a bit of a problem" on spending.
He charged that Giuliani left a budget deficit twice as big as the one he had inherited and that his successor Mike Bloomberg had vowed not to leave that gap to the next New York mayor. It was a sticky charge coming from Romney, who upon leaving office earlier this year left his successor in Massachusetts with a projected budget deficit for fiscal year 2008.
The Giuliani campaign wasted no time pointing to that fact and called upon supporter and former Massachusetts Gov. Paul Cellucci to argue Romney got his facts wrong. "Campaign trail Mitt Romney is at it again in an effort to cover up his own lackluster record as governor by attacking Rudy Giuliani," Cellucci said in a statement.
Appointments and Crime Stats
Giuliani defended his handling of New York's budget, telling the New Hampshire union leader that his administration reduced city spending in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that his budget numbers were skewed because he left in mid-fiscal year. Giuliani rejects the notion that he left the city with a budget deficit.
Late on Saturday the former mayor opened a new line of assault in an interview with The Associated Press by knocking his rival for appointing a state Supreme Court judge who approved the release of a convicted killer who is now accused of murder in Washington state. Romney has asked for Judge Kathe Tuttman to resign in the wake of the revelation.
Bernard Kerick, the former New York police commissioner indicted on conspiracy, whom Giuliani recommended for secretary of Homeland Security, was the subject of a Romney counter attack on his political appointee. "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.
In another area of combat, the Giuliani camp circulated crime statistics for Massachusetts while Romney was governor. The conclusion: Murders and robberies were up. "He did not have a record of reducing violent crime," Giuliani asserted in an interview. "More than one isolated appointment or one isolated decision by a judge -- which is truly tragic and the real sympathy here should go to the family who had to endure this -- the governor had what can only be described as a poor record on violent crime," he said, according to the AP.
Giuliani often points to his record of reducing crime during the 1990s, when crime tailored off overall around the country. On the crime numbers, Romney replied on Sunday that Giuliani was "making up facts." Both campaigns circulated crime statistics from Massachusetts when Romney was governor using FBI figures from during Romney's term. The Giuliani campaign's take is that murders were up 7.5 percent in Massachusetts while the Romney camp sees a crime reduction of 7 percent when looking at violent crime per 100,000 residents.
Romney was hit by Giuliani for pushing for an mandate that all Massachusetts citizens have health care. On the campaign trail, Romney has soft-pedaled on aspects of his health care achievement in Massachusetts.
ABC News' Matt Stuart and Jan Simmonds contributed to this report.