John McCain plans to aggressively compete in Republican presidential rival Mitt Romney's Massachusetts, a bold move that reflects a deep desire not just to beat the former Massachusetts governor but bury him in his own backyard.
The Arizona senator will pick up the endorsement of former Gov. Paul Cellucci on Saturday, run radio ads in the state, and campaign in Boston on Monday. Another of the state's former governors, Jane Swift, also will make appearances on his behalf over the weekend, and volunteer phone calls will begin. McCain secured the endorsements of The Boston Globe and the Boston Herald weeks ago.
"We believe we have a chance in Massachusetts because Massachusetts voters know Governor Romney's record very well," Steve Schmidt, a McCain adviser, said Friday.
Countered Kevin Madden, a Romney spokesman: "Governor Romney has strong support from Republicans across Massachusetts." He added: "If the McCain campaign wants to waste time and money ... I say 'be my guest.'"
McCain is plowing ahead toward Super Tuesday contests and possibly the GOP nomination following back-to-back wins in South Carolina on Jan. 19, and Florida earlier this week. A New Hampshire victory over Romney last month set him on course.
"From what we see in the polls, I think that there's a very good chance it could be over on Tuesday but I think there's a lot of undecided voters," McCain told reporters on his campaign plane. "But I'm hoping. The sooner we get that done, the sooner I can go to work on uniting the party."
Campaigning in several regions
His Tuesday strategy calls for focusing on big-prize California, and Northeast delegate-rich battlegrounds of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts. He campaigned in Illinois and Missouri on Friday, his two top Midwestern targets. And, he will hold events in four Southern states in the coming days — Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.
McCain is ahead in the delegate race. He's at the top of national polls, and is in strong position in many of the states where he plans to compete.
He's running TV ads on national cable channels and in some key states. A new spot links him to Ronald Reagan and emphasizes his conservative credentials as he seeks to make an unnamed contrast with Romney, who he argues has changed his positions and lacks necessary national security experience.
"The true conservative," the ad says. "Ready to be commander in chief on day one."
It shows photos of McCain and Reagan, and says of the candidate: "Guided by strong conservative principles, he'll cut wasteful spending and keep taxes low. A proud social conservative who will never waver. The leadership and experience to call for the surge strategy in Iraq that is working."
Romney counting on Massachusetts
Romney, for his part, is looking to win enough of the 21 states that hold primaries and caucuses on Tuesday to topple his ascendant rival and keep his candidacy alive. He is counting on victory in Massachusetts and a chunk of the state's 43 convention delegates; a loss would be devastating and embarrassing.
Romney has lived in Massachusetts for decades. He went to Harvard business and law schools, raised his family there, worked at Boston-based Bain Capital and was governor of the state for one term.
Those roots were widely seen as an advantage for Romney heading into the neighboring New Hampshire primary last month. But Romney lost New Hampshire, where he owns a vacation home, in a bitter race with McCain.
Over the past few days, McCain has noted acrimony over Romney in his home state.
In a debate Thursday in Simi Valley, Calif., Romney argued that McCain was outside of the mainstream of the GOP, saying: "If you get endorsed by The New York Times, you're probably not a conservative."
McCain shot back: "Let me note that I was endorsed by your two hometown newspapers who know you best, including the very conservative Boston Herald, who know you well better than anybody. So I'll guarantee the Arizona Republic will be endorsing me, my friend."
The Arizona senator's foray to Massachusetts recalls similar visits made by Republican George H.W. Bush to Boston during his 1988 campaign against then-Massachusetts Gov. Michael S. Dukakis, the Democratic nominee.
At that time, Bush reveled in an endorsement from the Boston police patrolmen's union. He also made a publicized cruise on a then-dirty Boston Harbor to question Dukakis' environmental record.