Romney declined to sign the Contract With America, the Gingrich-led campaign manifesto for GOP candidates that fall. In a debate with Kennedy in the fall of 1994, Romney also distanced himself from the administration of President Ronald Reagan, claiming “I was an independent” during those years.
“I applaud the fact that he was wise in crafting the Contract With America,” Romney said of Gingrich on Tuesday. “I didn’t think it was a very good political step. He was right; I was wrong.”
He also said his “admiration and respect for the policies of Ronald Reagan has grown deeper and deeper” over time.
But he acknowledged that some Republicans question whether he is authentically conservative and said he must do a better job to convince them that he is.
“There are some elements that create the impression that I may not be a conservative,” Romney said. “One is being from Massachusetts. The other is a health-care plan that people feel was in some ways a model for what Barack Obama did. . . . People, I think, question those conservative values, and I have to bring them back to my record and, frankly, my writings.”
With Gingrich surging, Romney was asked to describe his path to the nomination. “Eleven hundred and fifty delegates, approximately,” he replied with a laugh. Asked whether he had to win Iowa or New Hampshire or other early states, he demurred. “I don’t have to win anything other than 1,150 delegates.”
He said that he would be surprised if he did not win Massachusetts and Utah and that he hopes to win New Hampshire. “Right now I’ve got a good lead in New Hampshire — I hope to maintain a lead there and to win,” he said. “But I think it’ll be a close race in New Hampshire.”
Romney sketched out elements that could prolong the race. He said he was not certain that lack of money would knock candidates out of the race this year, even if they sustained early losses. “I think it’s also possible that this will go on for a longer period of time than prior Republican primaries, in part because of the rule change toward proportional awards of delegates,” he said.
An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday night showed Gingrich with the highest percentage of any Republican to date but with potential problems in a general election. Romney acknowledged that Gingrich is currently the front-runner, but he predicted that his rival could face serious scrutiny from voters who have been looking for an ideal candidate and said that could affect his standing with the voters.