John McCain's accusation that Republican rival Mitt Romney backed a timetable to withdraw troops from Iraq -- a turning point in the closing days of Florida's presidential primary campaign -- provoked the most heated discussion in tonight's televised debate from California.
McCain stretched the truth about Romney's position and still is. Here's the testy exchange, according to a transcript provided by CNN:
Romney: "I do not propose nor have I ever proposed a public or secret date for withdrawal. It's just simply wrong. And by the way, raising it a few days before the Florida primary, when there was very little time for me to correct the record, when the question that was most frequently asked is, 'Oh, you're for a specific date of withdrawal,' sort of falls in the kind of dirty tricks that I think Ronald Reagan would have found to be reprehensible..."
CNN moderator Anderson Cooper: "Senator McCain, tough words."
McCain: "Well, of course, he said he wanted a timetable..."
Romney: "Is it not fair -- is it not fair to have the person who's being accused of having a position he doesn't have be the expert on what his position is? How is it that you're the expert on my position, when my position has been very clear?"
Cooper: "He does not say he is supporting a withdrawal..."
Romney: "And what's interesting here is it's an attempt to do the Washington-style old politics, which is lay a charge out there, regardless of whether it's true or not, don't check it, don't talk to the other candidate, just throw it out there, get it in the media and the stream. There's not a single media source that I've seen that hasn't said it wasn't reprehensible. Even the New York Times said it was wrong. The Washington Post -- they endorsed you -- The Washington Post gave you three Pinocchios for it. It's simply -- it's simply wrong, and the senator knows it..."
McCain: "...As far as Washington politics is concerned, I think my friend Governor Huckabee, sir, will attest the millions of dollars of attack ads and negative ads you leveled against him in Iowa, the millions of dollars of attack ads you have attacked against me in New Hampshire, and have ever since. A lot of it is your own money. You're free to do with it what you want to. You can spend it all. But the fact is that...your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone, unfortunately, in this campaign."