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Romney gaining on McCain

Ex-Mass. governor raises $1M in Az; raps rival on his border bill

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney exits after speaking to reporters prior to a fundraiser Wednesday.

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney exits after speaking to reporters prior to a fundraiser Wednesday.

GILBERT – Former Mass-achusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has topped $1 million in contributions in the home state of Arizona Sen. John McCain, one of his chief rivals for the Republican nomination for president, campaign officials said Wednesday.

Romney, who surpassed McCain this year in both fundraising and opinion polls in early voting states, was expected to add another $175,000 after speaking to 250 supporters at a fundraiser Wednesday night.

Romney called McCain a “terrific senator and American hero” but he differed with McCain on a number of key issues.

“My expectation is that I’ll see him in a number of debates but when it is all said and done, I’ll win the prize,” Romney told reporters before the fundraiser here.

Jason Rose, state director of Romney’s campaign in Arizona, said McCain’s support for an immigration reform bill has been tough for some Arizona Republicans to stomach. In addition to tightening security on the Mexican border, the bill would give millions of illegal immigrants a chance to stay in the country and eventually become citizens.

“In one county alone in southern Arizona last year, 478,000 illegal immigrants crossed the border,” Rose said. “So it’s a big issue all over the country, but especially so in Arizona.”

Romney called McCain’s immigration reform bill “a mistake.”

“The provisions of the Senate bill that says everybody who’s here illegally today, that they all get to stay as permanent residents of the United States, that’s fundamentally unfair, and it’s the wrong course for the nation,” Romney said.

The former governor didn’t say how he would remove the millions of illegal immigrants living throughout the country.

McCain’s campaign spokes-man Tucker Bounds dismissed Rose’s claim that McCain’s support is slipping among the state’s Republican base.

“For over 20 years, Sen. McCain has been overwhelmingly re-elected in Arizona to work and stand beside (Arizona) Sen. Jon Kyl to take on the hard things that need to get done for the good of the state,” Bounds said. “Immigration is another thing where Sen. Kyl and Sen. McCain are working together to make sure that things get done.”

Democratic National Committee spokesman Damien LaVera said that Romney still hasn’t offered a tangible immigration plan of his own.

“He offers a lot of criticism, but he doesn’t offer any solutions for how he would solve the (problem,” LaVera said.

Supporters at Wednesday’s fundraiser paid at least $500 to get in to the event. They paid another $1,800 to attend a reception with the former governor.

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