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Mitt Romney
forges ahead toward White House

Mitt Romney
forges ahead toward White House

By almost any measure, Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney--a would-be presidential candidate--should be hanging his head right now. He was chairman of an association that was supposed to elect Republican governors, but they lost 20 of 36 races on Election Day, which saw widespread GOP losses.

Then, in an issue critical to the GOP's conservative base, the Massachusetts legislature balked at his request to let state voters decide on a constitutional amendment overturning same-sex marriage in the state, forcing him to petition the state's highest court. In addition, two of his potential rivals, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, jumped out and announced they were forming presidential exploratory committees.

Yet true to the business training that earned him hundreds of millions of dollars, Romney has a plan, and he's sticking to it. The 59-year-old former venture capitalist, who gained fame resurrecting the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, is proceeding on a methodical course of fund-raising, staff-building, and outreach. If successful, Romney would be the first Mormon elected to the White House.

He plans to file papers establishing some sort of presidential committee by mid December, one top aide said, so he will be ready to start raising money for it on New Year's Day. Romney himself said as recently as last Friday that should he decide to run for president--and nearly all his travel and daily events are focused on such a run--he would announce his decision in early 2007. His term as governor ends January 4.

''I have not seen an individual approach this situation with a greater degree of structure or by compiling such a vast database for making it, both on the personal and political sides,'' said Tom Rath, a veteran New Hampshire political operative who has advised former Republican candidates such as Bob Dole, George H.W. Bush, Lamar Alexander, and George W. Bush.

The son of George Romney, former governor of Michigan and a 1968 presidential candidate, Romney has worked assiduously to position himself as the top alternative to McCain. A University of New Hampshire poll last month had the Arizona Republican in first place with 32%, Giuliani second with 19%, and Romney third with 15%.

Romney sought and won the chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, allowing him to spend this election year traveling the country and dispensing cash to his party's gubernatorial candidates. He raised a record $20 million and was especially generous with Republican Governors Association money in early presidential states like Iowa, Florida, and his native Michigan.

While Republicans surrendered the nation's gubernatorial majority to the Democrats on Election Day, Romney had a ready explanation. ''The job of the Republican Governors Association chairman is to raise money,'' he said. ''We're not going to take the credit for any wins we get, nor are we going to take the blame for losses we suffer.''

As for his party's broader losses, he--as did McCain last week--blamed his party for straying from its roots. ''We must return to the commonsense Reagan Republican ideals of fighting for hardworking Americans,'' Romney said in a postelection statement.

Where Romney may take some heat, especially from the social conservatives who are instrumental in early primary voting, is over his positions on same-sex marriage and abortion. Romney ran as a moderate during his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Despite saying he personally opposed abortion, he not only pledged to leave the state's abortion laws intact, but noted his mother, Lenore, ran for U.S. Senate in 1970 as a supporter of abortion rights. He now stresses his opposition to abortion in speeches across the country.

In 2002 Romney's supporters also handed out fliers with well wishes from him and his running mate during Boston's annual Gay Pride Parade. He was endorsed by the Log Cabin Republicans, a group of gay party activists. In 2003 he signed a proclamation hailing a gay youth parade.

Nonetheless, Romney has insisted his opposition to same-sex marriage has been unflinching. He has lambasted the supreme judicial court for its November 2003 decision making Massachusetts the first state to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians.

He also chastised the Democrat-controlled Massachusetts legislature for voting earlier this month to recess without acting on a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union between one man and one woman. Some 170,000 people signed petitions to get the question on the ballot in 2008.

''The issue before us today is whether 109 legislators will follow the constitution,'' he said Sunday during a rally on the statehouse steps. ''Let us not see the state, which first established constitutional democracy, become the first to abandon it.''

The Reverend Jerry Falwell, an evangelical who founded the Moral Majority, said he expects Christian conservatives will focus more on Romney's personal morality and his current views than his past statements or his faith.

''We're not trying to find a Sunday school teacher in chief; we're trying to find a commander in chief,'' said Falwell, who traveled to Massachusetts last month to meet with Romney. Also attending the meeting were Franklin Graham, Gary Bauer, Lou Sheldon, Richard Land, and other conservative social and religious leaders. ''Where he goes to church will not be a factor; how he lives his life will be,'' said Falwell.

Romney's political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, raised $8.75 million and gave away $1.3 million in the most recent election cycle--virtually the same dispensed by McCain's much older Straight Talk America committee.

The governor's top political advisers, meanwhile, tend to be Bush-heavy. They include Ron Kaufman, the former White House political director under President George H.W. Bush; Alex Castellanos, a media consultant for President George W. Bush; Jan van Lohuizen, a pollster for the president and the Republican National Committee; and Alex Gage, a ''microtargeting'' expert who helped Bush pinpoint pockets of support in the 2004 presidential campaign.

''The governor expects in the next couple of months he will have an announcement about his future,'' said Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's gubernatorial spokesman. ''Until that time he will continue to travel and meet with people as he decides about what is ahead of him.'' (AP)

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