MANCHESTER, N.H. — Barely triumphant in Iowa, Mitt Romney campaigned Wednesday seeking an overwhelming victory in New Hampshire's primary — and found tough questions even with Sen. John McCain, the locals' beloved war hero, at his side.
Romney returned to New Hampshire the morning after his eight-vote victory in Iowa's caucuses, and McCain joined him on stage as part of his endorsement announcement. But the crowd that greeted Romney 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," said the first questioner, who wasn't a fan. "You've said that corporations are people."
The second questioner read from a piece of paper as she asked why Romney defended his Massachusetts health law but thought it was bad for the nation. "Why did you want to hold people who could afford health insurance accountable in Massachusetts, but now you're OK with increasing costs for everyone else?" she asked.
And third, a Chinese American woman rose to challenge Romney's economic policies. When he pointed out America was the wealthiest nation on earth, she said: "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 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. A second event, in the ornate Peterborough Town House, was more upbeat, with questions about Pakistan and taxes on the self-employed and a query from a boy who wanted to know just why Romney wanted to go to all the trouble of running for president.
Romney and McCain appeared together at both events, McCain's endorsement timed and clearly designed to maximize the war hero's particularly high standing in New Hampshire. The Arizona Republican had been planning for weeks to endorse Romney and appeared to kick off the final week of campaigning ahead of the primary here.
McCain called Romney "an honest, straight-talking person of experience," high praise from the man whose 2000 campaign bus was nicknamed the "Straight Talk Express" after his reputation for speaking his mind.
Still, Romney and McCain had an uneasy rapport standing on stage together. Instead of having McCain introduce Romney to the crowds, as is typical of most of Romney's other prominent endorsers, McCain was the closer, standing ramrod still during Romney's typical stump speeches.
And during questions, McCain, the 2008 nominee, jumped right in. McCain was holding the microphone when a questioner asked, "What do we do about Pakistan?"
As McCain started to speak, so did Romney.
Romney blinked first. "We'll let him start," Romney said with a laugh, deferring to McCain's experience and knowledge of foreign policy issues.
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's third-place finisher, Rep. Ron Paul, is also poised to play a significant role in the state.
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. During that race, McCain said, "When he ran for office in Massachusetts being a Republican wasn't much of a priority for him."
In 2008, Romney eventually endorsed McCain — and now in 2012, McCain has returned the favor.
But their differences were still obvious. The 75-year-old McCain, clearly at ease, showed flashes of the charming former fighter jock who ran here in 2000, bantering about boxing and cracking jokes that drew easy laugher from the crowd.
Romney, smiling and upbeat, hit a few of his usual, slightly awkward moments, at one point trying to acknowledge a questioner seated in the balcony as a staffer handed the microphone to someone seated in the main room.
"When I was in school, the back row was where all the cool kids were," Romney said, looking up. "I never quite made it there, but I tried."
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