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McCain Sees Anti-Mormonism in Romney's S.C. Loss

By Erin McPike - January 28, 2012

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McCain took a beating in the last Republican primary for having a moderate stance on immigration reform, an issue on which teamed with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. Romney, for his part, has been to the right of the GOP field on immigration, and many analysts believe he would have an uphill battle courting Hispanic voters in the general election.

“Mitt and I have talked about this,” he said. “We need to . . . present a humane case and take a humane approach rather than one that seems uncaring or insensitive.”

He pointed to an op-ed piece by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in the Washington Post on Friday, and agreed with its premise: “We need to emphasize more business, less government, low taxes. There’s a very good deal of patriotism, pro-military, pro-life sentiment in the Hispanic community -- there is a list of issues where Hispanics are more aligned with Republicans than Democrats. You start with that and then you address this whole issue of illegal immigration.”

Still, though, he conceded, “It’s gonna be tough. It will be tough. I do not underestimate the challenge. I’m the guy that worked with Ted Kennedy on immigration reform, and I got whacked by people in my party.” And he pointed to changing demographics that could hurt the GOP, particularly in the Southwest.

And what about foreign policy and the military -- perhaps Romney’s greatest issue weakness?

McCain nodded in acknowledgment, but called Romney a “quick study” and said the best thing he has done has been “to surround himself with smart people.”

Romney has been bullish on increasing the size and strength of the military, and McCain said he’s been pleased with Romney’s language on the topic. But the candidate visited Afghanistan and Israel a year ago and has yet to build on what he learned from that trip. McCain said he should return to both nations -- Israel in particular, given the critical nature of its alliance with the United States -- and advised visiting U.S. allies in London and Paris, along with a country like Tunisia once the “Arab spring” has rendered its full effect there. Of course, he allowed, it’s tough to make such trips when he needs to be campaigning.

And Romney’s campaigning, McCain said, has improved greatly since the two faced each other as opponents.

Asked when that transition took place, McCain cited a moment in Iowa, when he and the campaign didn’t think they had a good shot at winning.

“He did a very good job of retail politicking when he was there . . . and I think obviously in New Hampshire,” McCain said. “They see him getting better and better. One of the complaints from some of Mitt’s supporters I talked to was that he wasn’t feisty enough. But if you saw him [in the debate Thursday night], he was feisty.” 

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @ErinMcPike.

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