RPT-Romney and rivals clash on taxes in New Hampshire

Sun Jan 6, 2008 9:22pm EST

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(Repeats to fix garble in lead)

MANCHESTER, N.H. Jan 6 (Reuters) - U.S. Republican presidential rivals Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney picked up on Sunday where they left off the night before -- bickering bitterly in a late bid for votes in a tight New Hampshire primary race.

With Romney fighting for his political life in Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, the former Massachusetts governor went on the attack against Huckabee and Arizona Sen. John McCain on their tax records during a New Hampshire debate.

Romney and Huckabee, sitting shoulder to shoulder on a Fox News set, clashed after Romney criticized Huckabee for raising the tax burden on Arkansas residents when he was governor.

"Did you raise taxes in your state by half-a-billion dollars?" Romney asked Huckabee.

When Huckabee said he turned a budget deficit into a surplus and improved education in his state, Romney asked him the same question two more times.

"Mike you make up facts faster than you talk, and that says something," Romney said.

Huckabee said he was forced to raise taxes by a court order to improve education. "Maybe you don't have to obey the courts in Massachusetts," Huckabee shot back.

The exchange occurred one night after Huckabee, McCain and other Republican contenders ganged up on Romney in a debate in New Hampshire, the next battleground in the state-by-state battle to pick candidates for the November presidential election.

Huckabee beat Romney in the first contest in Iowa last week, and Romney trails McCain in many polls in New Hampshire in a contest that could amount to a last chance to revive his candidacy.

Romney also criticized McCain for voting against President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. McCain said he was trying to hold down budget deficits. (Writing by John Whitesides, editing by Lori Santos) (For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)

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