Romney Joins the 2008 Race

By Anne E. Kornblut
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 14, 2007

DES MOINES, Feb. 13 -- With a call for "innovation and transformation in Washington," Mitt Romney formally stepped into the Republican presidential field on Tuesday morning, portraying himself as both a political outsider and an experienced executive who would bring efficiency to the White House.

Romney, who until last month served as governor of Massachusetts, launched his campaign in Michigan, the state where he was born and where his father was governor in the 1960s. He then flew here to Iowa, where next January's caucus will be a key test of whether the former governor of a state that Republicans like to depict as synonymous with liberalism can make inroads with conservatives.

He was met by a relatively small group of supporters who battled snow to greet him at the Iowa fairgrounds. In a stump speech that he was still honing, Romney, dressed in a navy suit and a blue tie, decried a system in which politicians are "unable to actually act -- they talk and the debate goes on forever. The ball is kicked down the field, but nothing actually gets done."

In a subtle swing at Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), his major Republican rival, Romney continued: "I don't believe Washington can get transformed by someone from the inside, by someone who has been part of politics through their entire life, who's made all the deals, who's done all the arrangements that have to be done, who's had all the entanglements. I think you have to have somebody from outside."

Still, he said, this is not the time for a president who has "never run a corner store, let alone the largest enterprise in the world."

A Mormon father of five, Romney, 59, brings personal wealth, dashing looks and business credentials to a race that is relatively open. Although McCain has led the Republicans in the early stages, he has been met with skepticism by the socially conservative wing of the party, leaving room for a challenge from the right.

Romney took the stage in Michigan as supporters waved blue-and-white signs that simply said "Mitt Romney." He was joined by his children and grandchildren, buttressing his wholesome image as he jumps into the fray against two Republicans, McCain and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, who both have been divorced and are viewed with some suspicion by the party's conservative base.

Romney comes to the campaign trail with an impressive pedigree and personal record: Raised in a political family in Michigan, he watched his father, George, win three terms as governor, only to stumble in the 1968 presidential race when he said he had supported the Vietnam War because he had been "brainwashed" on an official visit there three years before. Romney's mother, Lenore, later ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate.

Romney, one of four children, spent the early part of his career at Bain & Co., a management consulting firm in Boston, before co-founding Bain Capital, a private equity firm. He ran unsuccessfully against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 1994; years later, Olympic officials tapped Romney to restore the scandal-marred institution's good name before the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City. He won the Massachusetts governorship in November 2002.

While Romney focused Tuesday on his executive experience over the past decade and a half, his political evolution during that time is proving problematic: A significant obstacle is his history as a self-described moderate Republican during his 1994 Senate campaign. On issues such as abortion and gay rights, Romney has made sizable shifts since then, exposing himself to charges of inconsistency and political opportunism.

He spoke directly about social issues in his announcement in Dearborn, held at the Henry Ford Museum to underscore his faith in American ingenuity. "I believe that the family is the foundation of America -- and that it needs to be protected and strengthened," Romney said.

"I believe in the sanctity of human life," he said. "I believe that we are overtaxed and government is overfed. I believe that homeland security begins with securing our borders. And I believe that our best days are before us, because I believe in America."

The emphasis contrasted with his words in 1994, when he at one point argued that the "gay community needs more support from the Republican Party" and presented himself as the candidate to make that happen.

After one term as Massachusetts governor, he says that he no longer favors a federal nondiscrimination law for gay men and lesbians, and that he would not support allowing them to serve in the military. He has also altered his stance on abortion, saying he would now support overturning the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney also faces questions about his faith. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll in December, 35 percent of respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a candidate because he or she is a Mormon, vs. 3 percent who said they would be more likely to vote for someone of that faith. Among Republicans, Romney appeared to face an even more uphill battle: 39 percent said they would be less likely to vote for a Mormon.

With the war in Iraq proving an increasingly important fault line in the presidential race, Romney said little about his plan for ending the occupation or quelling the violence, and he left himself room to maneuver if President Bush's troop increase fails to calm the strife. "I believe that so long as there is a reasonable prospect of success, our wisest course is to seek stability in Iraq, with additional troops to secure the civilian population," Romney said in his opening address.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company