Mitt Romney bought a stuffed monkey and other playthings for his grandson, but their visit to a toy store Sunday was anything but routine Christmas shopping.
The presidential candidate used French’s Toy Shop in Concord, N.H., as the setting for one of his most biting attacks on Rudolph W. Giuliani, a top rival for the Republican nomination. Campaigning with his toddler grandson and seven other relatives, Romney described himself as more dedicated than Giuliani to family values.
“I believe it’s important for the Republican Party to have a person who can distinguish himself on family values with Hillary Clinton,” Romney said.
The nominee, he said, should be “pro-life,” “pro-family,” “pro-traditional marriage,” oppose illegal immigration and uphold high ethical standards. And by all those measures, he said, Giuliani falls short.
The verbal blast captured the combative tone of competing weekend bus tours across New Hampshire by Romney and Giuliani.
The former New York mayor slammed Romney’s record as governor of Massachusetts, most pointedly on crime and healthcare. “The governor had what can only be described as a poor record on violent crime,” Giuliani told the Associated Press on Saturday in Laconia.
On Sunday, Giuliani said Romney had made a mistake by mandating coverage for all Massachusetts residents in his landmark healthcare law. “When you mandate it, it ends up costing you much more money,” Giuliani said.
With New Hampshire’s Jan. 8 primary barely six weeks away, the sparring illustrated the key role that the state plays in the strategies of Romney and Giuliani.
Romney hopes to win the Jan. 3 caucuses in Iowa, then sprint to a New Hampshire victory that would build momentum toward the nomination. Giuliani faces slim prospects in culturally conservative Iowa, but better odds in more moderate New Hampshire.
Both candidates have saturated New Hampshire’s TV airwaves with ads promoting themselves, but confined their increasingly sharp attacks to campaign stops.
Romney’s pivot to family values Sunday was part of his drive to corner conservative primary voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere.
Joining him at the Concord toy store were his wife, Ann; their grown sons Tagg, Craig and Ben; each of their wives; and 19-month-old Parker, one of Romney’s 11 grandchildren.
With Parker perched on his shoulder, Romney, surrounded by news crews, bought the boy a stuffed Curious George, a toy car and a plastic horse.
Asked whether he was trying to contrast his stable family life with Giuliani’s tumultuous personal history, Romney said he was not making any comment on the subject. Giuliani has been married three times and has had major tensions with his two grown children. “Our family is far from perfect,” Romney said, “and we’ve got warts and all.”
Yet even without mentioning Giuliani’s name, Romney left no doubt that he was criticizing him in comments to a room full of voters later at a senior center in Newport.
“It just drives me nuts, I have to be honest with you, when politicians get up and talk about their personal life, and then say, ‘Oh, everybody makes mistakes,’ ” Romney said.
“Well, everybody makes mistakes, but not everybody asks to be president of the United States, and not everybody asks to be a United States senator, or a United States congressman. And when you ask for those responsibilities, then we expect you to live by a higher standard of conduct.”
The Giuliani campaign did not respond to a request for comment on Romney’s remarks about candidates’ personal lives.
But earlier, responding on the other matters raised by Romney, Giuliani campaign manager Michael DuHaime told reporters that he was “a mediocre one-term governor.”
“Ultimately, when we start talking about records, and records of the different candidates, and who can accomplish what this country faces, what you have is Gov. Romney essentially without much of a record,” he said.
As they darted among community centers and parades, Giuliani and Romney also continued their longstanding feud over fiscal matters, a top priority for many Republicans in this historically anti-tax state. Each claimed stronger credentials on keeping taxes and spending in check.
Their tussle over crime started Saturday when Romney said that a judge he appointed in Massachusetts should resign because she had released without bail a convicted killer who was later charged with murdering a young couple.
Romney’s appointment of Superior Court Judge Kathe Tuttman was “not an isolated situation,” but reflective of his poor record on fighting crime, Giuliani told the Associated Press.
Giuliani cited FBI statistics showing a rise in murders and robberies in Massachusetts on Romney’s watch, but Romney insisted Sunday that violent crime overall dropped.
“He’s now done this time and again, making up facts that just happen to be wrong,” Romney said.
Romney also said it was odd for Giuliani to criticize the judicial appointment in light of his history of naming Bernard Kerik, who was indicted last month on corruption charges, as New York police commissioner, and recommending him for U.S. Homeland Security secretary.
“He was coming from an entirely glass house,” Romney said.