By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 4, 2007
Outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a successful businessman from a prominent Michigan Republican family, joined the 2008 sweepstakes yesterday, formally establishing a presidential committee and turning his attention to the substantial fundraising and organizational demands of a national campaign.
On a day he participated in a ritualistic walk from the statehouse that symbolically marked the end of his single term as governor of one of the most liberal states in the union, Romney set his sights on winning his party's presidential nomination against such nationally known opponents as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.
Romney's filing, delayed for a day out of respect for the national day of mourning for former president Gerald R. Ford, set up what is called a presidential exploratory committee, but the time for exploring ended for Romney some time ago. Along with McCain, Romney has been aggressively building a national network for months, particularly in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Michigan -- all states with early caucuses or primaries next year.
With a new headquarters open for business in Boston, Romney plans to move into full-scale campaign activity immediately. He will speak to a group of Southern conservatives this weekend in Georgia and will host a major fundraising event in Boston Monday. A formal announcement of his candidacy will come later, aides said.
Romney trails far behind McCain and Giuliani in national polls, which at this stage often reflect the best name recognition. Republican strategists see the little-known Romney as a potentially formidable candidate whose stage presence, discipline and communications skills will help offset his limited experience as an elected official.
Romney, 59, is the son of the late George Romney, who was governor of Michigan from 1963 to 1969 and who unsuccessfully sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1968. Mitt Romney is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School and served as chief executive of Bain & Co. Inc., a management consulting firm, and later founded Bain Capital, a venture capital firm.
In 1999, Romney was called in to salvage the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City after the organizing committee's scandals and financial problems threatened the Games' success. He turned around the operation, eliminated a huge deficit and helped to stage what were ultimately highly successful Games.
His first try in politics ended in failure. He ran for the Senate in 1994 against a Massachusetts icon, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D), losing by 17 percentage points but establishing himself as an effective campaigner.
The echoes of that race could affect his bid for the Republican nomination in 2008. He said then that he would be a more effective advocate for gay rights than Kennedy was, and he defended Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, while declaring himself personally opposed to abortion.
Romney has since said that his views on abortion have changed dramatically -- he now favors overturning Roe-- and he has become a leading opponent of same-sex marriage. Critics say he has shifted positions to make himself more acceptable to social and religious conservatives. His advisers say that his conversion on abortion is genuine and that, although he is vocal on the issue of same-sex marriage, he still opposes discrimination against gays.
Romney is a Mormon and has played leadership roles in his church. His religion could provide an obstacle to his success in GOP primaries and caucuses, given reservations about the Mormon church among many evangelicals. Recent polling by The Washington Post and ABC News showed that one in three Americans said they are less likely to support a Mormon presidential candidate.