COLUMBIA, South Carolina (CNN) - Was John McCain's campaign playing offense or defense with a mail piece attacking Mitt Romney's tax record?
It's a sensitive question for McCain in South Carolina, where his presidential campaign in 2000 was famously derailed by an onslaught of negative attacks.
On Monday, after his campaign in that state sent out a mailer blasting Romney's record on taxes and accusing him of supporting taxpayer funded abortions, McCain faced a flurry of questions about the brochure from campaign reporters.
Who struck first? Romney's campaign, which originally circulated the mail piece to reporters on Saturday, points the finger at team McCain, calling the mailer a "hit piece."
McCain, campaigning in Michigan, told CNN he was playing defense against prior Romney attacks.
While he did not speak to which specific charge from Romney he was responding, McCain said his campaign's mailer was a justified strike against the "stack of mailers this high that attack me, literally this high that have flooded South Carolina for the last six months."
(Romney's campaign has sent out several pieces of issue-based contrast mail in South Carolina, but to this point, few, if any, mention McCain by name, and most target Mike Huckabee.)
But as it turns out, Romney's campaign did, in fact, send out a mailer criticizing McCain on taxes almost two weeks ago, which bolsters McCain's claim to playing defense, although it went unmentioned by the senator on Monday.
That Romney brochure, provided to CNN by a McCain aide, is a piece on contrast mail that asks, "Where do the candidates stand on fiscal responsibility?" and criticizes the tax records of McCain, Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani.
The mailer, which resembles similar pieces previously sent out by the Romney campaign, features a two-sentence mention of McCain's early opposition to the Bush tax cuts, and also criticizes two other Republicans.
By contrast, McCain's controversial mailer focuses its heat exclusively on Romney, hammering the former Massachusetts governor from four different angles on taxes, charges the Romney campaign calls "unsubstantiated" and "sloppy."
McCain told CNN Monday that his mail is "not negative campaigning" and he reserved the right to " respond in a very forceful fashion" to Romney.
Romney senior adviser Warren Tompkins, the hard-nosed South Carolina political consultant who worked against McCain on behalf of George W. Bush in 2000, accused the Arizona senator of being duplicitous.
"This isn't the first time that John McCain has tried to hang on to the high moral ground with one hand while slinging mud with the other," Tompkins said. "It's vintage angry McCain, and it's self-destructive because voters see right through it."
– CNN South Carolina Producer Peter Hamby
'Free Speech.' What an idea.
It is profound thinking to see beyond the war. The American public is capable of it except for the obvious and apparent: The war will go on whether we are there or not, and it will return to our shores with more voracity than 911. We can then thank the anti Iraq war folks for that.
Be afraid because they tell you too. Be good little sheep. Jumping at their every command. Grow up. you have a greater chance of getting hit by lightening then blown up by some terrorist. Give me a break. Wake up people. Lay off the fear mongering and terror cards. We already fell for that once. 3rd time must be a charm huh? The Patriot Act must be a good thing right? Well you all are wrong. Our gov't are the ones who terrorize and bully others. you fools. Vote against the status quo. PeacE to you all, even the misquided. I feel sorry for each and everyone so brainwashed by the media. Wake up before its too late. I beg of you.
I am a democrat,but I am voting for john mc,in this election.I like his stand on immagration,and his honesty toward the american people.He is not a johnny come lately.A down to earth man.He has my vote.
Gentlemen and Ladies:
We need a Fouth Branch of Government, to give us level playing field from the
lobbist, in Washington...and to represent the people, I have all of the Details of how it should work...lobbist was not around when this countrys first laws were
written...its suppose to be a government of the people , by the people , for the people...to solve problems,
Timothy R Miles
We need to rename the illegal mexican coming into the US, they should be call
Transistional , and the Enployers of these people should be responsible for them
getting the proper papers to stay in America, so that we will know who is here and
the bad people should go back to mexico... All Employers should follow these rules..
Timothy R Miles
Cocoa , Florida
Yes Robert C from TN, thats very sweet, be sure to tell the families of the dead. An officer in any branch of the military of the United States IS a trained executive who is capable of making executive decisions. Now, for you folks that need instruction: When a group of legislators put together a bill and submit it to Congress, they have laid it upon the table for debate from everyone, which includes you the people. Congress is the forum for debating thoughts an beliefs and pointing out potential problems and solutions. (not these silly blogs) Legislators may agree to a bill in theory and/or substance although it's not perfect because it may have the best chance of doing the most good. This pedantic chipping at whether or not so-and-so signed the illegal alien whatever is useless and boring. IF YOU DIDN'T LIKE THE BILL, DID YOU CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATOR AND SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS? ARE YOU DOING YOUR DUE DILIGENCE AS A CITIZEN OF THIS COUNTRY? So, who is really the flip-flopping idiot? You know its you. You'll wait until election time to make your voice heard. You were born here so you have more rights than folks right off the boat that learn the laws and rules to live a successful life as a citizen here.