Romney Finds Peril in Checklist for '08

The Associated Press
Sunday, March 25, 2007; 10:56 PM

BOSTON -- As Mitt Romney transitions from one-term governor to presidential candidate, he has been ticking through a presidential checklist, sometimes with perilous results.

Where he lacked foreign policy experience, his staff arranged one-day visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Check, check, check.

Where there were questions about Second Amendment issues, he enrolled as a "lifetime" member of the National Rifle Association.

Check again.

But this month, Romney scratched when he tried to wade through the cauldron of Cuban-American politics during a speech to South Florida Republicans.

"Hugo Chavez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase _ 'Patria o muerte, venceremos.'" Romney said, referring to the Venezuelan president and persistent U.S. critic. "It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba."

In truth, the phrase does not belong to free Cubans. It has been the trademark speechmaking sign-off of their most despised opponent, Fidel Castro. And unlike Romney, Castro would switch to English to declare, "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome."

The mistake pointed up Romney's newness to the scene and the freshness of some of his positions.

"No human being can ever know every nuance to every issue. And the steeper the learning curve, the more likely you are to see inadvertent errors," said Dan Schnur, a Republican communications consultant in California. He worked for Pete Wilson's 1996 presidential campaign and Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, but is not involved in the 2008 race.

"I've never seen one of these things take down a campaign, but it's critical for the candidate to show these type of things are an aberration, not a rule," Schnur said.

Unlike some of his better-known Democratic and Republican rivals, Romney, 60, lacks extensive national and international political experience. Romney has made a series of foreign and domestic policy pronouncements as he rushes to close gaps in his campaign's portfolio.

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