Mitt Romney says files papers for White House run

By Jason Szep
Reuters
Wednesday, January 3, 2007; 1:40 PM

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, a former venture capitalist credited with turning around the scandal-hit Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, took the first steps on Wednesday toward a 2008 White House bid.

Romney, 59, said he had filed papers with the Federal Election Commission in Washington to establish a presidential exploratory committee and fund-raising apparatus. A Romney aide said afterward that the paperwork was not due at the FEC until later on Wednesday.

"I have a feeling we are going to be pretty busy," Romney told reporters outside his office in Massachusetts. "We have filed exploratory papers today. So the process is moving forward on that front."

A devout Mormon and former bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney -- the son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney -- has several advantages, political analysts say.

He is a polished communicator with an actor's good looks. He gained national attention for rescuing the 2002 Olympics and earned degrees from both Harvard business and law schools before going on to make millions in business.

But as a one-term governor from a state with a liberal reputation, Romney still has hurdles to overcome among conservative Republicans, who are a major force in the party's nominating process. He has no foreign policy experience and has made conflicting statements on some social issues.

"One of his stiffest obstacles is his continuing support for the war in Iraq. He's been unwavering in his belief that President Bush is following the right path," said Jeffrey Berry, a professor at Tufts University.

Romney has cast himself as a social conservative to the right of both Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, two of the early Republican favorites.

He has courted Republican donors, met with prominent evangelical leaders, huddled with lobbyists in Washington and recently hired advertising specialist Alex Castellanos, who worked on President George W. Bush's 2000 campaign.

SOCIAL STANCES

Some conservatives, however, are bothered by his inconsistent record on social issues such as gay rights and abortion, which he said in 1994 should stay "safe and legal" before more recently declaring himself "firmly pro-life."

In a failed 1994 bid to unseat Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney told a prominent gay rights group he would be better in fighting discrimination against gays and lesbians than his rival, and he endorsed federal gay rights legislation. As governor, his stance changed and his policies tilted further to the right.

"It's easy to visualize the TV commercials that will be used against him. His opponents in Republican primaries will make sure that every voter in each state will know that he has reversed course on critical social issues," said Berry.

He also must overcome skepticism over what some Republicans call the "Mormon thing." Mormon leaders have spent decades countering critics who dismiss the faith as a cult and a threat to Christianity.

The once-isolated sect based in Salt Lake City, Utah, is one of the world's fastest growing and most affluent religions, with 12.3 million members globally. But its past could haunt a Romney presidential campaign, including its now-severed links to polygamy and a former ban on blacks from leadership roles.

(Additional reporting by Kevin McNicholas)




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