Mitt Romney and John McCain are in a heated back and forth over the war in Iraq. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
(CNN) – A fired up Mitt Romney demanded John McCain apologize Saturday for recently saying the former Massachusetts governor had once supported a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq – part of the latest back and forth between the two Republican candidates leading up to the crucial Florida primary.
"I don't know why he's being dishonest," Romney told reporters in Lutz, Florida. "But that's dishonest. To say that I have a specific date is simply wrong and is dishonest and he should apologize. That is not the case, I’ve never said that."
Campaigning earlier in Fort Myers on Saturday, McCain said, "In the conflict that we’re in, I’m the only one that said we have to abandon the Rumsfeld strategy and Rumsfeld and adopt a new strategy. Gov Romney wanted to set a date for withdrawal, similar to what the democrats are seeking which would have led to the victory by al Qaeda in my view.”
McCain has suggested for days that Romney once supported a timetable for withdrawal, though he only recently began naming the Massachusetts Republican by name.
The Arizona senator later rebuked Romney's calls for an apology, at an event in Sun City.
"I think the apology is owed to the young men and women who are serving this nation in uniform that we will not let them down in hard times and good," he said. "That is who the apology is owed to."
In his press conference with reporters, Romney also suggested McCain was trying to shift voters' focus away from the economy - an issue that would seem to favor the former business executive.
"I know he's trying desperately to change the topic from the economy and trying to get back to Iraq. But to say something that’s not accurate is simply wrong and he knows better," Romney said.
On Friday, McCain's campaign circulated the transcript of an interview from April, in which Romney seemed to support a private timetable.
"Well, there's no question that the president and Prime Minister al Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about, but those shouldn't be for public pronouncement," Romney told ABC in April.
– CNN's Alexander Marquardt, Shirley Zilberstein, and Alexander Mooney