— From NBC/NJ's Erin McPike
ROCHESTER, N.H. – On the same night
that Mitt Romney returned to New Hampshire and re-inserted John McCain
into his stump speech, an anti-Romney student turned up to dog him on
Soon after broaching the economy and lauding
President Bush for imposing tax cuts amid disagreement, he said, "You
know, one of my friends is Sen. McCain. He voted against the Bush tax
cuts." And then he added the contrast, "I think the Bush tax cuts were
a great thing for our country, I support them, I want to make them
permanent and I want to add to them."
Buzz about a McCain
comeback has been brewing for weeks now, and a USA Today/Gallup poll of
New Hampshire Republican voters that came out yesterday showed McCain's
support level coming within single digits of Romney's lead at 34
percent to 27 percent.
But the McCain comment came back to bite him in the question-and-answer session when a young man grilled him with, "You yourself refused to endorse the Bush tax cuts as governor in 2003, saying you wouldn't be a cheerleader for a tax break you didn't support. Isn't your attack tonight, sir, hypocritical in this respect and is this not another flip flop added to the ones identified by Tim Russert on Meet The Press last Sunday?"
Romney chuckled and gave a hearty "no." He went on to defend himself from the question, explaining that he was busy being a governor but did the support the cuts and campaigned for Bush in his re-election race.
He also wiggled his way out of the issue: "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."
Following the event, Romney New Hampshire communications adviser Rich Killion volunteered that the questioner was likely a McCain plant. Pounced on by reporters after Romney concluded, he gave only his first name – Sam – and said he's registered to vote in Massachusetts and is a student. "I like to meet the candidates," he said and added that he is undecided about his vote at this point.
Several Romney staffers, including Killion and Romney state director Jim Merrill, then approached him, and Killion charged, "Were you the guy with the bullhorn back in June outside the Red Arrow?" He shook his head and then asked, "Where's the Red Arrow, sir?" Merrill informed him that it's on YouTube, and Killion chimed in, "Yeah, we'll send you the clip. As you see, he's trying to leave very quickly."
Merrill said to reporters after that he's seen him "at events waving signs for Sen. McCain in front of the Verizon Center." Asked when the last time Merrill saw him, he said, "couldn't tell you." "He hasn't shown up at one of our events actually since this summer I think."
Merrill went on, "But it's the same person." Asked how he's sure, he smiled and said, "He's a very distinctive person. I remember him with a bullhorn at our event in Amherst and at our event at the Red Arrow in Manchester."
There is a YouTube clip from early August added by a user named "FlipFlopMitt" that features a similar-looking young man in sunglasses hounding Romney with a bullhorn. It's unclear where the event is. There is no McCain association evident in the clip, but the man blasts Romney for donating funds to "liberal Democrats," and he's joined by a character in a Dolphin suit.