Mitt Romney, seeing John McCain gaining fast in his rear-view mirror, will start airing a new TV ad in New Hampshire today that hits McCain on taxes and illegal immigration.
In the spot, the announcer starts by praising McCain, a Vietnam War hero, as "an honorable man," but then questions whether he is "the right Republican for the future."
The narrator goes on to say that McCain opposes repeal of the estate tax -- what Romney calls the "death tax" -- and Bush tax cuts. While McCain voted against permanent repeal in 2002, he does support limiting the number of people who would be subject to the tax.
The ad also criticizes McCain's support for a comprehensive immigration reform proposal that included a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already in the country -- what Romney and other opponents call "amnesty." McCain championed that reform plan, which failed to get through Congress earlier this year, but now says the borders need to be secured first before any other reforms are pushed.
The ad then cites Romney's record as Massachusetts governor on taxes and spending and his opposition to allowing immigrants who came to the country illegally from moving toward citizenship.
"Mitt Romney. John McCain. There is a difference," the announcer concludes.
Romney has intensified his criticism of McCain in recent days as the US senator from Arizona has risen in the polls. A Globe survey published Sunday showed the two running nearly even.
In format, the spot is similar to "contrast ads" that Romney has run against Mike Huckabee in Iowa on crime and illegal immigration. Huckabee has passed Romney in the Iowa polls.
McCain dismissed the ad as criticism from a candidate in a tailspin.
"If there's any doubt that we're doing well, it's when Mitt Romney starts attacking," McCain said this morning on Fox News Channel.
He added, with a chuckle, a jab at Romney's changes of position on issues such as abortion. "I don't know how to respond to a lot of his charges, because tomorrow he may have a different position," McCain said.
McCain launched his own ad in New Hampshire that doesn't mention Romney or any other rival, but instead lists laudatory comments about McCain from some of the 20 newspaper endorsements he has received in New Hampshire.