ABC News’ Matt Stuart Reports: Since dropping out of the presidential race in February, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has made a nearly seamless transition from party rival to prolific supporter of presumptive Republican nominee John McCain.
But will the attacks of a contentious primary season come back to haunt Romney, whose star is rising the Republican veepstakes after aggressive fundraising and surrogate appearances on McCain’s behalf? After all, Romney and McCain battled repeatedly through the primary season, most notably leading up to the critical New Hampshire and Florida contests in January of this year.
Campaigning in New Hampshire in January, Romney painted a bleak picture of McCain’s chances in the general election against Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., when Romney was asked if Republicans should fear the Illinois senator’s ability to resonate with voters.
"I think Barack Obama would be able to do to John McCain exactly what he was able to do to the other senators who are running on the Democratic side," Romney said at the time, describing McCain as "not the best match-up" against Obama.
"I frankly don’t think that Senator McCain, despite his service and his length of experience, that that’s going to be able to stand up to the message that Barack Obama has brought forward," Romney argued.
When asked for clarification of his comments, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom stated, "Every candidate is entitled to the conceit that he or she is the most qualified person for the office they seek and to vigorously make that case to the voters. Mitt Romney is no different in that regard. Now that the primary is over, Mitt Romney is doing everything he can to help elect John McCain."
Now a surrogate for McCain on cable television and on the stump, Romney has touted the Arizona senator as an experienced contender who is best prepared to lead the nation. McCain has been similarly cordial, saying that Romney "has earned a great place in our Republican Party," and that he’s "very grateful" for his support. McCain even joked recently that Romney "does a better job for me than he did for himself".
Appearing on the FOX News’ "Hannity & Colmes" earlier this month, Romney stated that he often acknowledged during the primary campaign that McCain was "a person of great capability who’s been tested and proven and someone who I respect enormously." And, in fact, Romney often went out of his way to preface his comments on Sen. McCain, calling him "a good man," and "a national hero."
While Romney has gone to great lengths to bridge the divide that once separated the campaigns — throwing his support behind McCain a week after he left the presidential race — these comments, and others like it, could prove most damaging to his chances at becoming McCain’s second-in-command on the November ticket.