FRANKLIN, N.H. &

Mitt Romney and John McCain sought to enhance their stature in a field of Republican presidential contenders that Newt Gingrich derisively called "pygmies," criticizing their Democratic rivals as too liberal and ill-prepared for the nation's top job.




Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, singled out Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton, telling senior citizens in central New Hampshire: "I don't think Hillary Clinton could get elected president of France with her platform. France is moving toward us."




Romney did not spare others, though, saying: "I'm convinced that America is going to change course and the question is which way it is going to go: Are we going to take a sharp left turn represented by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John Edwards, or are we going to march forth with the American values that have always helped us be the strongest nation on earth? And I believe we'll do the latter."




The Republicans' criticism of their Democratic counterparts comes amid national polls that show the White House race is far more volatile on the GOP side. The latest Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that nearly a quarter of Republicans are unwilling to back top-tier hopefuls Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, McCain or Romney.




In sharp contrast, the Democratic race remains static, with Clinton holding a sizable lead over Obama.




Criticizing Democrats is one way for Republican candidates to appeal to the party's core voters.




Romney, meanwhile, was in Bedford, N.H., talking up his support for a ban on assault-style weapons. He said he sees no problem with a Manchester City Republican Party's fundraiser next month where guests will fire Uzis and M-16 rifles.




"No one is suggesting that automatic weapons be made available to the public," Romney said at a town hall meeting in a school gym. "I support the Second Amendment."




Romney said using a weapon is different from owning one.




"I've held the stick on an F-16 fighter jet," he said. "That doesn't mean I think the public ought to be flying F-16 fighter jets. Let the Manchester Republican Party do as it likes."




McCain took exception to remarks in which Obama asserted his foreign policy judgment was superior to any of the candidates in the race, Republican or Democrat, partly because he has lived overseas and had a multicultural upbringing.