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John Daley ReportingWhen given the opportunity today, presidential candidate Mitt Romney declined to label himself as the frontrunner for the GOP nomination, but he leads in polls in key early primary states, and in fundraising. He came to Utah today to add more cash to his campaign war chest.
This presidential race is well on its way to being the most expensive ever. Today Mitt Romney discussed that topic, as well as health care and faith. His comments also highlighted differences with a one-time ally, now a foe, John McCain.
In 2002, when we caught up with gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney on the campaign trail, Senator John McCain was by his side, lending support at a rally. Today they're intense head-to-head rivals, Romney outpacing McCain, the one-time presumptive frontrunner in fundraising and some key polls.
Romney's LDS religion has attracted pointed criticism from the campaigns of other candidates. About that, he says, "Any derogatory comments about anyone's faith, those comments are troubling; and the fact that they keep on coming up is even more troubling."
Romney says he got calls of apology from two candidates: Senator Sam Brownback and Mayor Rudi Guiliani. "They each spoke with me personally and I don't have any issue with that at all."
But he is still waiting to hear from McCain himself about a comment made by a campaign staffer. "You know, I haven't heard from Senator McCain on that topic or others since the last debate," he said.
A spokesman insists the McCain campaign has already apologized, saying, "It's a very sincere apology. There is absolutely no place for those type of comments in our campaign."
Romney saved some of his sharpest comments for one of the Senator's top legislative triumphs, the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, which banned soft money to national parties and candidates but left loopholes. "The intent was to take the influence of money out of politics. It's made it worse not better. It ought to be repealed," he said.
Romney, who raised $23 million in the first quarter this year, favors no contribution limits. "It's really too bad that the fundraising process has taken up such a huge portion of the political agenda," Romney said. "The best thing to do is allow people to make contributions of whatever amount they'd like and to disclose them immediately on a Web site."
His opponents label comments like that flip-flops, and have posted on the video clips on the Internet. When running as a moderate challenger for Senate versus incumbent Ted Kennedy in 1994, he strongly favored reform measures like limits on spending and abolishing PACs.
The audio from one video clip, courtesy YouTube, says, "The kinds of demands that are being placed on the economics of running a campaign suggest an increasing power on the part of monied interests and I think it's wrong and we've got to change it."
After today's Q and A session and a pair of short sit-down interviews,one with our Richard Piatt, candidate Romney headed down the hall. There, Jazz-owner Larry Miller did the introductions before about 250 people, at a $500 a plate event, which raised roughly $125,000.
The Washington Post reports Romney will be holding another fundraiser Monday at a sports arena in Boston. His campaign is asking invitees to bring contact lists, a cell phone and their phone changers, as they dial for dollars.