ABC News’ Bret Hovell reports from Concord, New Hampshire: Senator John McCain says it is "ironic" that rival Mitt Romney would attack him on immigration in a new ad released by the Arizona Republican’s campaign.
"You know I find it ironic Mitt Romney would attack me on the issue of immigration," McCain says, speaking directly into the camera in the ad. "This is the same Mitt Romney who called my plan, quote, reasonable."
The commercial debuted Sunday on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos. It will run on television stations in New Hampshire this week.
Romney’s ad accuses McCain of supporting a plan that would grant amnesty and give social security to illegal immigrants, facts that are misleading – McCain’s plan would have required illegal immigrants to pay a fine and wait in line to become citizens, at which time they would be eligible for the social security like any citizen.
But immigration has proven to be the toughest issue for McCain in his campaign for the White House. At nearly every town hall meeting, McCain gets asked to explain his position from skeptical questioners. More than once voters have told him that they would vote for him except for his position on the issue.
Romney’s ad, then, could be particularly perilous for McCain, who is gaining ground on Romney, the longtime frontrunner in New Hampshire.
"You either respond, which we will do once. Or you let it sit out there absolutely untrue," McCain explained Saturday aboard his campaign bus. "So we’ve made our choice, and I think it’s the right thing to do."
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said that Romney is in agreement with the majority of Republicans on the immigration issue.
"Senator McCain’s amnesty approach towards illegal immigration is absolutely the wrong approach to the problem," Madden wrote in a statement. "[McCain's] troubling policies on illegal immigration would reward law-breakers and make our nation’s borders less secure."
McCain’s ad takes a dig at Romney’s character as well, implying that Romney is being dishonest.
"Before I can win your vote I know I have to win your respect," McCain says in the ad. "And to do that you know I’ll always be straight with you."
ABC News’ Matt Stuart contributed reporting from Iowa.