Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Romney kicks off White House run

(from the USA Today)

Romney kicks off White House run
Updated 2/13/2007 9:10 PM ET
By Jill Lawrence, USA TODAY

DEARBORN, Mich. — Only one Republican presidential candidate has run a business, governed a state and turned an ailing Olympics into a success story. That record, Mitt Romney said Tuesday, makes him uniquely qualified to transcend Washington's "petty politics" and deliver change.
The former Massachusetts governor and venture-capital CEO, kicking off his campaign, said the country needs "innovation and transformation." He said "lifelong politicians" won't make it happen.

"I do not believe Washington can be transformed … by someone who's never run a corner store, let alone the largest enterprise in the world," Romney told supporters at the Henry Ford Museum in the state where he was born and raised.

ROMNEY'S RUN: Will his faith hurt his bid? | Video

Romney reprised his message later for about 300 people at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines. South Carolina and New Hampshire, weather permitting, were on his itinerary today. All four states have early primaries or caucuses. The Michigan primary is tentatively set for Feb. 5.

The Michigan launch allowed Romney to focus on his Midwestern roots rather than the liberal state he governed until last month. But he said he has the same goals for the nation as he had for Massachusetts, including strong families, lower taxes and affordable, portable health care.

In foreign policy, Romney said "America must regain our standing in the world" and define its international role "not only in terms of our might, but also by our willingness to lead, to serve and to share." He said he would forge closer partnerships with other nations to support moderate Muslims and block Iran's nuclear ambitions.

On Iraq, Romney stuck with President Bush — for now. "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," he said.

Romney, 59, is trailing former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain in national polls. But he has fundraising clout — he raised $6.5 million in one day last month — and other strengths that political experts say make him a contender.

"We elect governors for president, not senators and mayors of cities," says Ed Sarpolus, an independent pollster based in Lansing. "Romney is very well positioned. He has a good organization. He is not divorced. And he's got a record."

Romney's challenges include his Mormon religion and changing positions on issues such as abortion, gay rights, emergency contraception and stem-cell research. He has moved to the right on all of them.

He said Tuesday that "I believe in the sanctity of human life." He also said that "unelected judges" should not make laws. Gay marriage is legal in Massachusetts as a result of a state court ruling. Romney pushed for and won passage of a bill that puts gay marriage on the ballot.

Romney and his Democratic legislature enacted the country's first statewide, universal health-coverage plan. It treats health insurance like auto insurance — individuals must have policies. People with low incomes will pay less for coverage.

Walter Schmidt, 58, a Lutheran minister from Grosse Pointe Woods, called Romney "a good middle-of-the-road Republican. Traditional, but not a far-right fundamentalist. That's what I think we need." He added, "I would prefer that he wasn't Mormon," but "the family values that he reflects are more important" than his faith.

Romney's wife, Ann, his five sons and their families were onstage with him here. He talked of his Michigan childhood and his late father George's careers as an auto executive and governor.

Romney attended Harvard law and business schools. He lost a 1994 Senate race to Sen. Edward Kennedy. In 1999 he became CEO of the struggling 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. He averted financial ruin and ran an extensive security operation for the Games shortly after 9/11.

Contributing: Lisa Rossi of the Des Moines Register

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