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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said on Wednesday Republicans in Washington have hurt the party and have been acting like Democrats.
"If we're going to change Washington, Republicans have to put our own house in order," the former Massachusetts governor said in a television ad his campaign began airing in New Hampshire and Iowa.
The ad represents an effort by Romney to run as a Washington outsider. In it, Romney attacks Republicans for failing to stop big government spending and providing better security for U.S. borders from illegal immigration.
"We can't be like Democrats -- a party of big spending," he said. "We can't pretend our borders are secure from illegal immigration."
Romney did not cite President George W. Bush or any other Republican by name, but conservatives have accused Bush of not doing enough to rein in federal spending and for promoting a proposal to give illegal immigrants a path to U.S. citizenship.
In what could be construed as an attack on Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig, arrested in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport restroom, Romney said: "We can't have ethical standards that are a punch line for Jay Leno."
Leno, the late night comedian who hosts NBC's "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno," routinely lampoons Washington politicians and lately has been taking aim at Craig on an almost nightly basis.
Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said Romney was not specifically targeting Craig, but rather was speaking to a belief held by many voters that some elected officials in Washington have not lived up to high ethical standards.
"When Republicans act like Democrats, America loses," Romney says in the ad. "It's time for Republicans to start acting like Republicans. It's time for a change, and change begins with us."
Romney, while running third or fourth in national polls, leads polling in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire.
To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online here