MR. GREGORY: Up front this hour, the fight on the right. John McCain taking flak from conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh. Former Senator Bob Dole wrote Rush yesterday to defend McCain. Well, today it was Mitt Romney who stepped into the debate.
MITT ROMNEY (former governor of Massachusetts and Republican presidential candidate): (From videotape.) It's probably the last person I would have wanted to have write a letter for me.
MR. GREGORY: Well, earlier I spoke to Senator John McCain, who came right back at Romney. I began by asking him what he expected to be the headline tomorrow.
(Begin videotaped interview.)
SEN. MCCAIN: I hope that it's "McCain Wins." (Laughs.) I hope so.
MR. GREGORY: Do you think it's decisive? Do you think you have a chance for it to be a decisive win?
SEN. MCCAIN: I don't know, you know. It still is -- no matter if we won everything, there would still be some left over.
David, could I just mention, someone just showed me a second ago the fact that someone asked Governor Romney about the letter that Bob Dole wrote on my behalf to Rush Limbaugh and he said that would be the last person he would want writing a letter on his behalf -- Governor Romney disparaging an American hero, our leader, our nominee for president of the United States? That's disgraceful. I think Governor Romney should apologize to Bob Dole for that comment. He's a great American. And for Governor Romney, who has never had any military experience, to disparage the service and courage of an American hero I think is disgraceful.
MR. GREGORY: This is part of a contrast that Governor Romney is trying to make in voters' minds between him and you and about who's the most conservative.
SEN. MCCAIN: And you know, he can do that, but to disparage a great American hero like Senator Bob Dole, who led our Republicans in the Senate? I mean, that's -- an apology is in order.
But you know, Governor Romney is doing -- he's had two sides of every issue. He raised taxes by $730 million as governor. He saddled them with a debt of a quarter of a billion dollars -- which, according to the Boston Globe, was just doubled because of his government- mandated health care system. Jobs fled his state. And now he's trying to portray himself as a conservative. How remarkable. (Chuckles.)
MR. GREGORY: Talk about conservative credentials, though, because the reason Bob Dole wrote that letter was to Rush Limbaugh, who has said in recent days that you winning the nomination would destroy the party. He said that you have stabbed the Republican Party in the back over the years. He does reflect these angry conservatives who argue that you are not one of them. How do you unite conservatives behind you?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, a lot of them are coming our way. I'm very proud to have people like Jack Kemp and Phil Gramm and Steve Forbes, and the list goes on and on of very respected conservatives, my colleagues in the Senate like -- ranging from Howard Baker to Tom Coburn.
But the important thing is that most conservatives care about who can win this transcendent challenge against radical Islamic extremism. That's why we did so well with conservatives in Florida and South Carolina and New Hampshire, and I believe we can do that today.
And as by any poll, I'm by far the most electable. Governor Romney is way down there in the electability issue.
MR. GREGORY: And is that part of the argument here, Senator, which is, look, conservatives of my party, you may not agree with me on some of the issues, whether it's immigration or campaign finance reform, but I have the best shot to win so it's time to get on board? Is that the appeal you're making?
SEN. MCCAIN: No, the appeal is that I am a conservative. You examine my record by any gauge, by any -- cutting taxes, reducing spending, national defense, national security, being able and having the knowledge to take on the war in Iraq. Governor Romney wanted to set a timetable for withdrawal or as governor he said he had no position on the surge. He has no experience or background on national security issues, as well as a strong -- I was part of the Reagan revolution. I was one of the foot soldiers when we cut taxes but we restrained spending as well. I'm proud of my conservative record. That's how I'm going to convince them.
MR. GREGORY: Final question, Senator, about the Democrats. They're already starting to run against you as if you're the nominee. Talk about a contrast between John McCain and either Obama or Clinton as we look ahead to the general election?
SEN. MCCAIN: Well, I think it'll be respectful, but also spirited: whether we want to raise or lower your taxes, whether we want the government to take over the health care system or the families have the choice in health care, whether you want to declare surrender in Iraq and come home and then those people -- al Qaeda has said they'll follow us home and they'll say that they won in Iraq. There's a broad range of differences here. I think Americans may have a great -- more stark choices than they've had in a presidential campaign in a long time. I look forward to it.
MR. GREGORY: In your judgment, does either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have the character to be president?
SEN. MCCAIN: Oh, look, I respect all of my opponents. I have respect for them and I will treat them with respect. And the American people want the respect, too.
MR. GREGORY: Senator McCain, good luck. Thank you.
SEN. MCCAIN: Thank you, David.