Romney also sought to turn McCain's well-known maverick streak — a central theme in his campaign ads — against the Arizona senator. McCain's go-it-alone attitude, Romney suggested, will breed more divisiveness in Washington if he wins.
"Anyone who's run something, whether it's a small business or a big business, knows that the No. 1 ingredient for success is building a remarkable team of people around you, motivating them, guiding them, insisting on them drawing out their best capacities," Romney told a crowd of more than 100 people at an elementary school.
"I've had occasions to run business, to run the Olympics and to run a state, and you don't do that by yourself," said Romney, a former Massachusetts governor.
Taxes, a major focus in a state without an income tax, drew Romney's attention in his criticism of McCain.
"He voted against the Bush tax cuts — twice," Romney said. "That's failing Reagan 101. (Ronald) Reagan taught ... almost all of us in the Republican Party that lowering taxes would grow the economy and was good for our economy and good for individuals. And I believe that the Republicans are going to nominate a tax-cutter to become president of the United States."
The McCain campaign's state vice chairman, Chuck Douglas, said Romney had a tendency to change political positions depending on the circumstance.
"From his claims of being a 'lifelong hunter' to receiving the NRA's endorsement to marching with Martin Luther King Jr., it's clear that Mitt Romney has trouble with the truth," Douglas said. "His latest attacks are yet another example of his complete inability to level with the voters of New Hampshire. The facts are clear: Romney refused to endorse the Bush tax cuts he now claims to champion, maybe because he was too busy raising taxes in Massachusetts by over $700 million per year."
In 2000, McCain beat Bush in the New Hampshire primary, and the two later squared-off over the president's tax-cut policy.
The attacks on McCain come as the latest public opinion survey shows the lawmaker gaining on Romney, who long held double-digit leads in the state. Those questioned in the USA Today/Gallup Poll said they liked McCain for standing up for his beliefs and being in touch with average people, but Romney for having new ideas to solve problems and sharing voters' values.
Open for attack?
Romney's criticism could open him up to a line attack about his own position on the tax cuts.
McCain was one of two Republican senators to vote against a $1.35 trillion tax cut that Bush proposed in 2001. McCain also voted against similar plans in 2003, as well as a proposed repeal of the federal estate tax. McCain said they disproportionately benefited the wealthy.
"That sounds like Ted Kennedy and John Kerry," Romney later told a house party in Tuftonboro, referring to the two liberal Democratic senators from his home state.
At the time of the latter votes, Romney was in his first stint in elective office, leading Massachusetts.
The Boston Globe reported that year that during a meeting in Washington with the Massachusetts congressional delegation, Romney was asked about the tax cuts and said he "won't be a cheerleader" for proposals he did not agree with. "But I have to keep a solid relationship with the White House."
Now, Romney is solidly behind the cuts, arguing they should be made permanent before they expire in 2011.
Change of heart
A questioner at a town hall meeting Friday night in Rochester asked Romney about his apparent change of heart. The man refused to give his name, and Romney aides surrounded him afterward and accused him of being a Massachusetts Democrat who had challenged Romney about his tax record at another event.
Romney said that his first public comments were in support of the tax cuts, and that he campaigned on behalf of Bush in 2004.
Turning back to 2003, Romney told the man: "You see, I wasn't a U.S. senator. I didn't have to vote on this, didn't get a choice to. I was running my state, so I didn't have a comment on their position. And I said, `I'm not weighing in on federal issues.' But Senator McCain was a senator. He had to vote. He had to decide, `Am I in favor of pursuing these tax cuts or not?' and he voted against the tax cuts — twice. That's a very different position."