Image: Mitt Romney, John MCCain
Lynne Sladky  /  AP file
Republican presidential hopeful, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, responds to a question as Republican presidential hopeful, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., right, listens during the MSNBC Republican Presidential Debate in Boca Raton, Fla. Thursday, Jan. 24, 2008.
updated 1/26/2008 2:47:36 PM ET 2008-01-26T19:47:36

The debate between John McCain and Mitt Romney over leadership credentials continues as both candidates work for support ahead of Florida's primary next week.

Romney continues to insist that somebody from Washington, like McCain, won't be able to change Washington. However, McCain says it is important for a president to have "served our country in war and in peace."

Polls show McCain and Romney locked in a tight race for the lead in a state that offers the winner a hefty 57 delegates to the party's nominating convention and a shot of energy heading into a virtual national primary on February 5th.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who has essentially staked his campaign on Florida, argues that he is a candidate with both McCain's foreign policy strength and Romney's economic know-how.

However, polls show Giuliani behind both Romney and McCain in Florida.

On Saturday, McCain accused Romney of wanting to withdraw troops from Iraq, drawing immediate protest from his Republican presidential rival who said: "That's simply wrong and it's dishonest, and he should apologize."

Opening a new line of criticism in Ft. Myers as the two candidates campaigned along the state's southwest coast, McCain told reporters about Iraq: "If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Governor Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher."

Minutes earlier, he took a slap at Romney without naming him during a question-and-answer session with Floridians, saying: "Now, one of my opponents wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster."

Asked about the comment in Land O' Lakes, Romney balked. "That's dishonest, to say that I have a specific date. That's simply wrong," he said. "That is not the case. I've never said that."

"I know he's trying desperately to change the topic from the economy and trying to get back to Iraq, but to say something that's not accurate is simply wrong, and he knows better," Romney said.

While he has never set public date for withdrawal, Romney has said that President Bush and Iraqi leaders should have private timetables and benchmarks with which to gauge progress on the war and determine troop levels. He has said publicly that he agrees with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, that U.S. troops could move to more of an oversight role in 2008.

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