updated 2/23/2007 3:19:03 PM ET 2007-02-23T20:19:03

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Friday that he relishes the infighting that has consumed two of his potential Democratic opponents, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois.

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“It’s great, isn’t it?” Romney said to peals of laughter from crowd of employees at a solar-related equipment plant on the newly declared candidate’s first visit to the leadoff presidential primary state. “I love to see it when it happens on the other side.”

The former Massachusetts governor described his leading Republican rivals, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, as “friends” and “national heroes,” before adding, “I respect them. I’m sure we’ll disagree on issues from time to time, but I doubt you’ll see the rancor that apparently may exist elsewhere.”

Earlier this week, Clinton aides called on Obama to repudiate criticism of the former first lady leveled by Hollywood producer David Geffen , a former Clinton backer not supporting Obama. Obama refused, saying Geffen spoke for himself.

The former Massachusetts governor’s main message to workers during the visit was that it doesn’t make sense for the country to send its oil dollars to nations that dislike the United States, so he’s developing a plan for energy independence in the not-too-distant future.

Expanding the use of wind, solar, nuclear and improved coal technologies could help the nation create as much energy as it uses within 20 to 30 years some experts believe, a timeframe Romney cited but would not embrace until he delivers his formal speech on the subject at some future date.

“It doesn’t make sense for us not to become increasingly energy independent, and for that to happen, we’re going to have to rely on technology, innovation of the same kind that you’re seeing right here,” Romney told about 100 employees at GT Solar Inc., which makes equipment in turn used to construct solar energy panels.

“It will be the vision of that program to have America to produce as much energy as we use,” Romney added.

Romney had been scheduled to visit New Hampshire amid a campaign announcement tour that also took him to early voting Iowa, South Carolina, Florida and Michigan, but he had to postpone his trip after a heavy snow storm closed schools and highways.

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