Romney: McCain Is "More Interested In Insults Than Issues"

From CBS News' Scott Conroy:

NASHUA, N.H. -- Mitt Romney tried to turn the tide this morning after last night's bruising GOP debate, in which he found himself being used as a punching bag for most of the other candidates on stage.

The first question at a town hall forum this morning was in reference to one of John McCain's more caustic barbs last night, which came when the Arizona senator said that he agreed that Romney was the candidate of change — a clear snipe at the former Massachusetts governor's perceived flip-flops on issues. A woman rose from the crowd of nearly 400 people to ask Romney what's so wrong with changing one's mind.

"There's nothing wrong with change one's mind," Romney said. "But you know, some politicians, as I said, are more interested in insults than issues, and I'm interested in issues."

Romney then laid out his reasoning for changing his mind on abortion and then attacked McCain for continuing to defend his own vote against the Bush tax cuts.

"He's simply wrong," Romney said. "Now, he's consistent, but he's wrong, and I'll take being right over being consistent every day of the week."

Although many national media reports suggested that Romney struggled to fend off the relentless jabs from his opponents last night — especially the stream of one-liners coming from the tag-team duo of McCain and Huckabee — Romney's advisors made the argument that the former Massachusetts governor came out on top. He was the focus of the entire debate, they said, and he seemed the most civil and presidential.

Romney's press secretary Eric Fehrnstrom said that after McCain laughed at one of his own insults directed at Romney, the Arizona senator "looked like the guy who had just pushed someone down a stairwell."

"I don't think he came across as a very likable individual," Fehrnstrom said.

A senior Romney aide who requested anonymity to speak freely said of the other GOP candidates on stage, "They think [Romney] is a spoiled brat." The aide also said that Romney's competitors are afraid that if he does find a way to win in New Hampshire, the one-time New Hampshire favorite would immediately regain the momentum he needs to become the nominee.

Tuesday's primary is sure to set the tone for the rest of the campaign on the Republican side, and the leading candidates aren't holding anything back. One undecided voter from Nashua told CBS News that he's now getting an average of two phone calls an hour from campaigns and interest groups.

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    Scott Conroy is a National Political Reporter for RealClearPolitics and a contributor for CBS News.