Romney takes first formal step toward running for president in 2012

Correction: An earlier version of this article inaccurately described the campaign-law implications of former House speaker Newt Gin­grich’s decision to enter the “testing the waters” stage of the proc­ess rather than setting up such a committee. The move does not limit his fundraising more than an exploratory committee would have. It gives him more leeway to continue his business endeavors as he moves toward a formal decision on whether to run. This version has been corrected.

April 11, 2011

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, presumed to be a strong contender in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, took an initial step on Monday, with the announcement that he is forming an exploratory committee.

Although it was hardly a surprise — Romney has been laying the groundwork for another bid almost from the moment he abandoned his first quest for the GOP nomination in 2008 — the move came with what passes for little fanfare in the Internet age. It consisted of a tweet, a Facebook posting and a video on his Web site.

But the 21 / 2-minute video offered a glimpse of how Romney plans to position himself in a race that the economy and fiscal issues are expected to dominate. He stressed his experience as a successful businessman who created jobs and as a governor with a record of balancing budgets.

Lamenting that 20 million Americans are out of work, Romney said, “How has this happened in the nation that leads the world in innovation and productivity? The answer is that President Obama’s policies have failed.”

His own experience, he added, has convinced him that “America has been put on a dangerous course by Washington politicians, and it has become even worse in the last two years.”

The video showed the former governor in front of a football field at the University of New Hampshire, a neighboring state that has been a virtual second home to Romney. His loss there in 2008 was a blow from which his campaign never recovered. A victory in New Hampshire is just as crucial to his hopes in 2012.

Obama officially announced last week that he plans to seek a second term. Romney is the second Republican to form an exploratory committee, which is a vehicle to allow him to begin collecting contributions.

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty announced his exploratory committee last month. And former House speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) has entered a phase known under election law as “testing the waters,” which gives him more leeway to continue his business endeavors as he moves toward a formal decision on whether to run.

Romney advisers said the timing of his move was dictated by Obama’s announcement, and by the imperative to show his strength as a fundraiser in the second quarter.

But it also came at an awkward moment: Tuesday marks the fifth anniversary of the landmark Massachusetts health-care law that was Romney’s signature achievement as governor.

The basic outlines of that system are strikingly similar to the new national health-care legislation that Republicans deride as “Obamacare.” Romney has attempted to distance himself from that comparison, saying he would not advocate a similar system for the nation, and that he would change some parts of the Massachusetts system.

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said the former governor was not bothered by the juxtaposition of his announcement and the anniversary of the health-care law. “Our view is that any day is a good day to talk about jobs and the economy,” he said.

The former governor would be well situated for the race under the normal order of things in the Republican Party, in which the establishment determines the front-runner early, and often turns to the person who is standing next in line from the previous race.

But Romney’s record on health-care reform, and his history of shifting from liberal to conservative positions on social issues, could be a liability with some of the GOP base. His Mormon faith also could be a tough sell with some on the religious right.

And this time around, with the insurgent tea party movement providing much of the political energy within the GOP, many Republican strategists say it could be a far more open and prolonged contest. That’s one reason the race has gotten off to a relatively slow start, especially in comparison with four years ago, when at this point nearly 20 candidates in the two parties had declared that they were running.

Romney announced his first exploratory committee in January 2007, on his last day as governor.

“His view was that last time, it got started too soon,” Fehrnstrom said. “Obviously, this is a different year, a different time, and we have a different issue set in front of us.”

Karen Tumulty is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where she received the 2013 Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.
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