Monday, February 5, 2007

Romney at the Republican Study Committee

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Romney Explains Shifts
By: Jonathan Martin
February 3, 2007 07:55 PM EST

BALTIMORE – Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney laid out his conservative credentials, explained his shift on social issues and took a few shots at two potential opponents Friday.

Appearing before the conservative Republican Study Committee, Romney stuck to his usual explanation for his change of heart, but presented himself not as a convert but as a student who had received an education on key social issues.

The one-term governor said his time on Beacon Hill had "confirmed some principles and educated me on some principles." Romney told about 50 members of the GOP group that he ran as a fiscal conservative, but "learned some unexpected lessons about social conservative issues."

"Massachusetts became center stage for the most important social issues of our time," he said, detailing his efforts to limit stem cell research, thwart same-sex marriage and curb abortion rights.

At the end of his governorship, the man who ran supporting abortion rights and some gay rights said he'd undergone a transition.

"This fiscal conservative became a social conservative as well," he said.

After reporters were shooed out of the hotel ballroom, the Republicans asked Romney to elaborate on his abortion views.

According to one who remained in the room, Romney used a familiar anecdote to describe his change on the issue.

Romney, recounting a meeting with Harvard University scientists in 2004, recalled how they nonchalantly explained their cloning of embryos. That, Romney notes, was the moment when he first realized how the sanctity of life had become so cheapened.

In a brief press availability after what Romney described as a "probing follow-up" to his speech, the former governor said he felt like he had passed the examination.

In an interview, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Calif., said he was satisfied with Romney's explanation.

"I felt very comfortable," said Herger, who is so far uncommitted in the presidential contest but offered that he could "absolutely" back Romney.

Rep. Darrell Issa, another California Republican, noted that while Romney said what he needed to say to the conservative audience, his address was short on specifics.

"There wasn't a lot there," said Issa, who has also yet to weigh in on 2008. "He touched on a lot of broad themes that require a lot of money."

Asked about Romney's accounting of how he had come to oppose abortion rights, Issa acknowledged that it was "artful,'' but probably not quite as clear-cut as Romney tried to make it.

Unmistaken were two shots the former governor took at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. – both presidential contenders.

Discussing his views on Iran, Romney noted that in addressing pro-Israel AIPAC Thursday night in New York, Clinton said the United States needs to "understand" Iran better. Emphasizing the quotation, Romney added that Clinton had also called for America to "engage" Tehran.

"Somebody who doesn't 'understand' Iran hasn't been paying attention," Romney said, adding that Clinton's view amounted to a "troubling timidity" toward the prospect of a nuclear Iran.

"We don't need a listening tour of Iran," he said.

Responding, Clinton campaign spokesman Mo Elleithee said the senator "believes that no option should be taken off the table when it comes to developing nuclear weapons."

"Given his record flip flops," Elleithee said, "the only thing that's timid are Governor Romney's convictions."

Romney's tweak of his GOP rival wasn't as pointed, nor as public.

A staffer in the room for Romney's private exchange with Republicans said that the former governor drew a standing ovation when he called McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform "a horrible policy."

Then, with a grin, Romney added: "I could have, of course, just called it campaign finance reform."

McCain's camp declined to comment.

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