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Romney says media are focused on him

Claims scrutiny shows he's conservatives' choice

Alison Pyle, manager of the Hollis Pharmacy & General Store in Hollis, N.H., helped Mitt Romney prepare to cut brownies yesterday during a campaign stop at the store. (JONATHAN WIGGS/GLOBE STAFF)

HAMPSTEAD, N.H. -- The mainstream media's aggressive coverage of his candidacy for president, Mitt Romney said yesterday, is proof that he is considered the conservative choice in the Republican primary contest.

"I think the media of the last few weeks suggests that there's great interest in even my great-grandfather, which I don't think has yet been focused on other candidates," he told reporters before addressing a Republican dinner for 350 people. Romney, who is Mormon, was referring to a recent Associated Press report chronicling how his ancestors had practiced polygamy.

Such scrutiny, Romney said, "perhaps flows from the fact that, relative to the leading candidates, some people see me as being more conservative."

He made his comments on a day of furious politicking across Southern New Hampshire, during which he participated in a community forum in Concord, cut fudge, and talked to supporters over squawking parrots at a store in Hollis, and addressed business leaders in Nashua.

Romney's remarks on the media expanded on a theme he first raised in a Christian Broadcasting Network interview, portions of which were released yesterday.

"I think it proves that the media has determined who the conservative candidate is, because they're going after me with hammer and tong and that's the way you would expect to go after the conservative candidate," Romney was quoted as saying in the interview. "I'm proud of the fact that the mainstream media isn't wild about my candidacy, and that's why I'm going to win."

Romney has worked hard over the past year to position himself as the leading conservative candidate for 2008, but his efforts have been hampered by his widely publicized reversals on issues such as abortion and gay rights.

Still, Romney is increasingly trying to sharpen the differences between himself and the two GOP front-runners, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani , the former mayor of New York, whom Romney considers less conservative.

Romney said in the Christian Broadcasting Network interview that Giuliani, whom he has rarely criticized publicly, would have difficulty winning the GOP nomination.

"He is prochoice. He is progay marriage and antigun," Romney was quoted as saying. "That's a tough combination in a Republican primary." And he reiterated criticism he has leveled at McCain for opposing a federal constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"I fought for a federal amendment to the Constitution to establish marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman," Romney said. "Senator McCain voted against that."

A spokeswoman for Giuliani said that he has always opposed same-sex marriage and "has the utmost respect for Mitt Romney." McCain spokesman Danny Diaz said in an e-mail, "Senator McCain is focused on the important challenges confronting our nation and will continue to work toward reduced government spending and victory in Iraq."

In an important early straw poll yesterday in Spartanburg, S.C., preliminary results showed Romney fourth behind Giuliani, McCain, and US Representative Duncan Hunter of California.

Romney also outlined some policy ideas, including a proposed cap on federal spending. He said if elected, he would veto any federal budget that expanded discretionary, nonmilitary spending by more than 1 percent under the consumer price index. In addition, he called for a second Marshall Plan, led by the United States, to establish modern schools, banks, and other democratic institutions in Muslim or part-Muslim countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan.

In Hollis, a small town west of Nashua, Romney got off to a rocky start by mistakenly calling it Hollis, Massachusetts, but he recovered quickly. He said, to applause, that he knew he was in New Hampshire because he didn't pay sales tax on the gum he bought.

Standing on a coffee table at the Hollis pharmacy, Romney fielded questions from a crowd of several dozen, often interrupted by parrots in a cage at the back of the store.

"Now are those roosters back there?" he asked. Told they were parrots, he tried to teach them to say, "Romney, Romney, Romney."

After his remarks, Romney wandered behind the counter.

"The governor wants to cut some fudge, honey," the store's owner, Vahrij Manoukian, said to his fiancee.

Romney put a rubber glove on his right hand, cut a sliver of chocolate coconut fudge, and took a bite. "Oh, yeah," he said. "That's good."

Scott Helman can be reached at shelman@globe.com.

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