COMMENTS: Intense, Nasty, Personal

The President's speech did not even qualify for the #2 slot in the day's political news. That honor went to the Republicans' final day on the campaign trail in Florida. The primary contest there is so close that "John McCain canceled plans to attend tonight's State of the Union address in Washington so he could crisscross Florida and attack Mitt Romney at every stop," as CBS' Byron Pitts put it. ABC's Ron Claiborne (embargoed link) called the mood on the campaign trail "extraordinarily tense" while NBC's Ron Allen heard each hurl "perhaps the ultimate Republican insult at each other, the L-word." McCain called Romney "the liberal Governor of the State of Massachusetts." Romney reminded voters that McCain co-sponsored legislation with Democrats on immigration, campaign finance and climate change.

Sure, there are legitimate issues of ideology, experience and resources that separate the two. NBC's Allen contrasted McCain's "national security" background with Romney's preparation "to handle a troubled economy." ABC's Claiborne pointed out that Florida allows only registered Republicans to vote in the primary, thereby cutting off McCain's core support among independents. But Claiborne insisted that this contest is "intense, nasty and at times personal." ABC's George Stephanopoulos was asked whether the animosity between the two is genuine. "You can see it. There is no question about it," he averred. Not just McCain, but Romney's other rivals in the Republican field "believe that at his core he has not shown principle, he has not been consistent on issues."


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