MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — Mitt Romney on Wednesday accepted an endorsement from Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, as the former Massachusetts governor pushed for an overwhelming victory in next week’s New Hampshire primary.
Romney flew in from Iowa in the morning after his narrow caucus win, and McCain joined him on stage. But the crowd that greeted Romney’s New Hampshire kickoff asked more hostile questions than any he found in Iowa over the past two weeks — or those in New Hampshire earlier in December.
“I’m Mark from Occupy Boston and from Occupy New Hampshire,” the first questioner said. “You’ve said that corporations are people.” He drew Romney into an extended argument about whether the profits companies make help average Americans improve their lives.
The second questioner read from a piece of paper as she asked why Romney defended his Massachusetts health law as a way to keep people from taking advantage of the system but opposed such a law for the nation. “Why did you want to hold people who could afford health insurance accountable in Massachusetts, but now you’re okay with increasing costs for everyone else?” she asked.
And third, a Chinese American woman stood to ask Romney how he would move away from Ronald Reagan-era economics that she said didn’t help her. When he defended America as the wealthiest in the world, she responded: “I love this country . I hate all this degrading thing about China this, China that.”
Her comments were drowned out by other shouts from the crowd, until Romney repeated her: “She said, ‘She loves this country, and don’t put any Asians down.’ I hope I don’t put any Asians down,” he said.
Romney took a few more questions and wasn’t visibly rattled, instead pushing back and also looking to McCain to help him with his answers
But it was a remarkable start to the last week of a primary that Romney hopes to win by overwhelming margins. Romney plans another town hall in nearby Peterborough Tuesday evening.
McCain, who is still hugely popular in the state, said his endorsement was intended to help Romney “get an overwhelming vote that will catapult this candidate to the White House.”
It was very carefully timed and clearly designed to maximize the war hero’s particularly high standing in New Hampshire. McCain had been planning for weeks to endorse Romney, but only appeared to kick off the final week of campaigning ahead of the primary here.
Romney was governor of neighboring Massachusetts and holds a strong lead in polls in New Hampshire. With a precarious 8-vote win behind him, Romney is looking to voters here to hand him a victory that will make his eventual nomination seem all but inevitable.
Romney still faces conservative challenges from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who barely lost in Iowa, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who has already started running newspaper ads declaring Romney too moderate.
Iowa third-place finisher Rep. Ron Paul is also poised to play a significant role in the state.
McCain is particularly popular with the independents who can vote in the state’s Republican primary. His endorsement could help Romney win over those voters and increase his overall support.
McCain and Romney haven’t always been political allies. McCain beat Romney in the 2008 New Hampshire primary, and there is a history of acrimony between the two. But Romney eventually endorsed McCain in 2008.
Romney plans to spend Thursday morning in New Hampshire before flying to South Carolina Thursday afternoon and campaigning there through Friday. South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and McCain will join him in a town hall style meeting in Charleston Thursday afternoon. He will return to New England for back-to-back debates Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Follow Kasie Hunt on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/kasie.