He would be a “good voice in the party” for their cause, and his moderation on the issue would be “widely written about,” he said, according to detailed notes taken by an officer of the group, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts.
“You need someone like me in Washington,” several participants recalled Romney saying that day in September 2002, an apparent reference to his future ambitions.
Romney made similar assurances to activists for gay rights and the environment, according to people familiar with the discussions, both as a candidate for governor and then in the early days of his term.
The encounters with liberal advocates offer some revealing insights into the ever-evolving ideology of Romney, who as a presidential candidate now espouses the hard-line opposition to abortion that he seemed to disparage less than a decade ago.
Some details of his interactions with liberal activists were first reported in the Los Angeles Times in 2007, when Romney was introducing himself on the national stage.
This time, Romney, focusing more on his economic expertise than his gubernatorial record, is widely viewed as the GOP’s front-runner. His past positions remain fodder for critics as polls show that he has yet to win over many conservative primary voters — and as rivals in both parties try to brand him a flip-flopper.
Now, as they watch Romney’s ascent from his old stomping grounds in Boston, many of the liberals he encountered wonder whether his transformation has been sincere or a matter of sheer politics. Not only did he espouse more liberal views at the time, but Romney presented himself as a change agent who could soften the GOP’s rough ideological edges.
Melissa Kogut, the NARAL group’s executive director in 2002, recalled Wednesday that as she and other participants in the meeting began to pack their belongings to leave after the 45-minute session, Romney became “emphatic that the Republican Party was not doing themselves a service by being so vehemently anti-choice.”
The abortion rights supporters came away from the meeting pleasantly surprised. Romney declined to label himself “pro-choice” but said he eschewed all labels, including “pro-life.” He told the group that he would “protect and preserve a woman’s right to choose under Massachusetts law” and that he thought any move to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision would be a “serious mistake for our country.”
“We felt good about the interview. He seemed genuine,” said Nicole Roos, the NARAL official who took the notes and shared them with a reporter.