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Romney Works to Overcome Inconsistencies

_Then a registered independent, Romney voted in the 1992 Democratic presidential primary for Paul Tsongas. Two years later, he said he did so because he favored the Massachusetts senator's ideas over those of Bill Clinton, and was sure President George H.W. Bush would be renominated. Now, Romney says he backed the candidate he thought might be the weakest opponent for Bush.

_In his first two campaigns, Romney emphasized his support of gun-control measures. In 1994, he said: "I don't line up with the NRA." Now, he is a card-carrying National Rifle Association member. He joined the organization in August.

_Romney used to distance himself from President Reagan. Now he casts himself as a conservative in the mold of Reagan.

"Romney hasn't changed his mind on an issue, he's changed it on just about every issue in this campaign, including immigration, gun control, abortion, gay rights, campaign finance reform, tax cuts, health care, stem cell research _ even his own political heroes," the Democratic National Committee chided in a news release last week.

It's a case McCain and Giuliani likely will try to make as well, even though they also have inconsistencies in their records that have generated criticism.

Romney's campaign, for its part, has developed a strategy for dealing with the negative perceptions, according to an internal campaign document dated Dec. 11 and obtained by The Boston Globe. The 77-page PowerPoint presentation contains the positive and negative perceptions of Romney. The negatives include "phony" and "political opportunist."

The document suggests ways of setting Romney apart from McCain and Giuliani, and highlights "adversaries," including France, taxes, Hollywood liberals and jihadism. It also suggests how Romney can highlight his differences with President Bush, including "intelligence."

Publicly, Romney has spent weeks trying to defend his changes of heart and soothe the concerns of conservatives who question his steadfastness on their core issues.

"I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way," he told a conservative gathering in Sea Island, Ga., in early January. "Perhaps some in this room have had the opportunity to listen, learn and benefit from life's experience _ and to grow in wisdom, as I have."

A few days later, Romney tried a stronger statement after video from a 1994 debate with Kennedy surfaced. He said: "Of course, I was wrong on some issues back then. I'm not embarrassed to admit that. I think most of us learn with experience. I know I certainly have."

Previous presidential candidates have tried to weather contradictions in their votes and quotes as opponents sought to portray them as equivocating. The charge speaks to a person's credibility and character, raising questions of whether a person takes certain stances because of political expediency instead of core beliefs, and whether they can be trusted.

President Bush seriously wounded Democratic nominee John Kerry's campaign in 2004 by portraying the Massachusetts senator as a flip-flopping liberal. Four years earlier, Bush cast Al Gore as inconsistent on positions like the Strategic Petroleum Oil Reserve and an exaggerator on other matters.

"At the end of the day people want to vote for who they trust, and that's why Bush's message _ you might not always agree with me, but you know where I stand _ has been so effective," said Stephanie Cutter, a Democratic strategist who was Kerry's campaign communications director.


EDITOR'S NOTE _ Liz Sidoti covers politics for The Associated Press.

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