FT. LAUDERDALE and PENSACOLA, Florida (CNN) - John McCain and Mitt Romney clashed Friday over who was best-equipped to handle the nation’s economy.
At a Ft. Lauderdale media availability, McCain pointed to his Commerce Committee experience as a major economic credential.
He added: “I think everyone knows the difference between leadership and management. You can hire managers all the time, people who do the mechanics, people who implement policies, people who are good assets. Leadership is people who inspire.”
He pointed to Ronald Reagan and Gen. David Petraeus as models, and said “I know how to lead and inspire…I think I’m by far best capable of doing that.
Asked whether he was tagging Mitt Romney as a manager, he replied: “I am suggesting that Gov. Romney is touting his qualities and experience as a manager…. I am telling the American people that I am a leader.”
Romney was even more critical of the Arizona senator. He told supporters in Pensacola that as the only candidate at Thursday’s Florida Republican debate who had worked in the private sector, he was uniquely qualified to lead on economic issues.
He added that in his view, McCain hadn’t done well at the forum: the senator “had to come back and flail a bit, trying to attack my record, saying that my record - 25 years in the business world and three years running the Olympics, and then four years as governor of Massachusetts - that that doesn't qualify me to understand how the economy works.
“... a matter of fact, being on the Commerce Committee in the Senate, that's what gives you the expertise you need to know about how the economy works. Oh yeah. And I think he's detoured from what was some straight talk.”
He also read from a 2005 Wall Street Journal interview in which McCain said he knew less about economics than about foreign policy and the military, and said McCain was engaging in “Washington talk,” the belief that “somehow because you've been in Washington, and you've been on a committee that you somehow know about how the jobs of this country are created.”
Both men are locked in a battle for the top spot in most recent polls of Florida voters leading up to Tuesday’s presidential primary.