From NBC/NJ's Adam Aigner-Treworgy
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- McCain held a roundtable on national security this morning with several of his biggest supporters and surrogates. Held at Atlantic Marine, which builds both commercial and naval vessels, the event included two senators, a former CIA director, a FBI-agent-turned-southern-governor, a past head of the VA Administration and a former POW who was held in Hanoi with McCain.
For almost an hour, the panel took turns describing the threats of terrorism in general and 'radical Islamic extremism' in particular, with an emphasis on why McCain's experience makes him the best candidate to handle the challenges that lie ahead. Although not exactly an unbiased panel, the clear point was to take another step towards shifting the debate in Florida -- home to roughly 2 million veterans -- back towards defense and military preparedness
But McCain couldn't get away from what has become a heated back-and-forth with Mitt Romney over the economy and the candidates' respective conservative records. Speaking to reporters after the roundtable, McCain responded to Romney's attacks from earlier this morning that likened the senator to a liberal Democrat.
"One thing I think we should really give Governor Romney credit for -- he is consistent," McCain said. "He has consistently taken both sides of any major issue. He has consistently flip-flopped on every issue…
"As the liberal governor of the state of Massachusetts, he raised taxes by 730 million dollars, the state is now stuck with a quarter billion dollar debt over government-mandated health system. When he was governor, they had the third or fourth worst economy of any state in America, and the manufacturing jobs left this country at 7%. They left Massachusetts at 14%…As the head of his investment company, he presided over companies that immediately laid off thousands of workers."
McCain also defended his environmental reform legislation, co-sponsored by Joe Lieberman, which Romney alleged would cost the average family of four $1,000 per year on oil and natural gas.
"If he thinks that the American economy will suffer by us cleaning up the environment, by us reducing pollution, by us embracing green technologies, including nuclear power, then we just have a profound difference of opinion," McCain said, pointing out that his legislation would encourage the proliferation of green technology. "People want consistency, people want you not to take two positions- at least- on every issue."