With presidential candidates John McCain on vacation and Rudy Giuliani making a rare visit to the state, Mitt Romney sought this weekend to close the deal with New Hampshire Republicans who remain undecided about his presidential candidacy.
The former governor of neighboring Massachusetts fired away at McCain, repeatedly accusing McCAin of failing "Reagan 101" by voting twice against Bush administration tax cuts. Romney also said McCain's past support for allowing illegal immigrants to stay in the United States and work toward legal status amounted to amnesty.
"You know, right now Sen. McCain and I are both battling for your support and your vote. He's a good man, but we have differing views on this," Romney said at a rally.
McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker responded: "Mitt Romney opened his hometown newspaper this morning and saw he's in a dead heat with John McCain. So it's no surprise that he's attacking _ it's the calling card of a campaign in crisis mode."
A Boston Globe poll showed McCain had pulled into a statistical dead heat after his campaign appeared all but dead this summer.
The New Hampshire primary is important, because candidates who do well in the state and in the Iowa caucuses, can gain momentum and media attention, establishing themselves as front-runners. Those who do poorly often decide to drop out of the race.
The caucuses _ simultaneous meetings held at 1,784 locations statewide _ begin the process of selecting delegates to the parties' national presidential nominating conventions in August and September. But the nominees could be apparent well before then based on the number of delegates amassed in the primaries and caucuses.
Romney largely ignored Giuliani, telling reporters he was focusing on McCain rather than the former New York mayor because Giuliani had curtailed his campaigning here and polls showed his support flagging.
Just 15 days before the primary, according to the Boston Globe poll Romney had the support of 28 percent of likely voters, McCain 25 percent and Giuliani 14 percent. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. A similar poll last month had Romney at 32 percent, Giuliani in second at 20 percent and McCain in third at 17 percent.
Romney has also lost the lead he held in Iowa to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. Huckabee has campaigned only sporadically in New Hampshire, which votes Jan. 8.
Ann Romney spoke of her husband's personal side and made overt references to their 38-year marriage. Both McCain and Giuliani have been divorced, a point of concern for some social conservatives.