MR. LAUER: Governor Mitt Romney, a native son of Michigan, is still in Dearborn, Michigan this morning.
Governor, good morning to you.
MR. ROMNEY: Good morning, Matt.
MR. LAUER: Nice to see you. So let's talk about this exchange between you and Mayor Giuliani. You guys teed off against each other on the subject of spending, the line-item veto, and in particular on cutting taxes. He says that as mayor of New York he lowered taxes. He says that as governor of Massachusetts you raised taxes. You say the opposite is true, that you lowered taxes. So only one of you can be right. How do you think that the average voter should sort this out?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I don't think the average voter is going to be able to go through the statistics. And frankly, both of us lowered taxes. Both of us tried to rein in spending.
But there are some things that are pretty clear. One is he opposed the line-item veto; took it all the way to the Supreme Court. I think it's the key thing for a president to be able to rein in spending.
And the other is that, in Mayor Giuliani's case, he fought to put in place and to keep in place a commuter tax, which cost some $400 million for people to commute into New York City. That, I think, is a real mistake.
And finally, the mayor of New York City that followed Mayor Giuliani said that he was left with an enormous deficit. And that's not something which I think bodes well for his campaign.
MR. LAUER: Let me go back to this accusation. He says you raised taxes. You say you lowered taxes. As I said, only one --
MR. ROMNEY: That's --
MR. LAUER: I know, but I'm saying only one can be right. So if you're a voter out there, doesn't this sound like politics as usual? We've got two guys running for the highest office in the land, and at least one of them seems to be willing to distort the facts to make a case. Is that what voters want in this election?
MR. ROMNEY: No, they sure don't. And I did not raise taxes. People of Massachusetts realize that I lowered the investment tax credit. I put in place a program to help seniors with their housing, real estate taxes, their real estate taxes. We had sales tax holidays. We fought for a manufacturers' tax credit and got that. And every year in my budget I tried to reduce the taxes, and I actually put in place a $250 million capital gains tax rebate. We didn't raise taxes. We lowered them.
MR. LAUER: All right, let me move on to something else. As Carl Quintanilla said in his piece, the other candidate who got the most attention last night was not in the room. Listen to this.
(Begin videotaped segment.)
RUDY GIULIANI (Republican presidential candidate): Now, you asked me about Hillary Clinton.
MR. ROMNEY: -- meeting with, most likely, Hillary Clinton.
MR. GIULIANI: Hillary Clinton was asked --
MR. ROMNEY: Of course, that's what Hillary Clinton wants to do.
MR. GIULIANI: Hillary Clinton --
MR. ROMNEY: Hillary Care is government gets in --
MR. GIULIANI: You remember the Hillary (bond ?) program?
MR. ROMNEY: The Hillary Clinton plan --
(End videotaped segment.)
MR. LAUER: Governor, have you guys given Hillary Clinton the Democratic nomination already?
MR. ROMNEY: Well, I think at this stage, most of the people looking at the race think she's the most likely. And on the kinds of things that she's been saying lately have really pointed out that she is way away from the mainstream of the American people. Her idea of having government take over health care is not going to be acceptable to the American people.
This $5,000 giveaway -- she was going to give $5,000 to each child, supposedly because they have a big share of the national debt. But, of course, she was going to have to borrow $5,000 for each child to do it. This is a policy that I think Republicans are going to point out that we just don't want to take a left turn in this country.
MR. LAUER: All right, let me ask you about one other thing. Remember Dan Bartlett, Governor? He's the former counselor to President Bush. He left the White House recently. And now he's speaking out, it appears rather freely, about the Republican candidates. And I'm going to preface this by saying this issue, I know, is a sore subject for you, but this is coming from a former top advisor to the president.
He said this about you: "I think the Mormon issue is a real problem. In the South it's a real problem, and in other parts of the country. But people aren't going to say it. People are not going to step out and say, 'I have a problem with Romney because he's Mormon.' What they're going to say is, 'He's a flip-flopper.' It's going to be the answer they give.
What's your response to the comments from Mr. Bartlett? We're going to speak to him in just a second.
MR. ROMNEY: You know, my experience is that that's been an issue that's been raised from the very beginning. And it would have a lot more credibility had I not won the straw poll in Ames, Iowa and the straw poll in Memphis, Tennessee, coming in second after Bill Frist, the hometown hero there, having won most of the straw polls in South Carolina. The polls in the early states where I've been out seeing people suggest that I'm either in the lead or tied for the lead.
So I think it's going to be an issue on people's minds. But I think, in the final analysis, the people of America are not going to choose their leader based on what church they go to. They want to know their values.
MR. LAUER: Scale of one to 10 --
MR. ROMNEY: And the values that I have are as American as you're going to find.
MR. LAUER: All right, scale of one to 10, how did Fred Thompson do yesterday in the debate?
MR. ROMNEY: Oh, I'm not going to grade anybody else, even myself. I think we each got a chance to get our message across, and I was pretty pleased.
MR. LAUER: All right, Mitt Romney. Governor, thanks for your time this morning. I appreciate it.
MR. ROMNEY: Thanks, Matt. Good to be with you.
MR. LAUER: Thank you.