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Romney officially launches campaign

The former governor of Massachusetts stresses values and innovation at his Michigan kickoff.

February 14, 2007|Mark Z. Barabak | Times Staff Writer

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney formally launched his bid for president Tuesday, joining a crowd of candidates in both parties denouncing Washington and the political status quo.

"It is time for innovation and transformation," the Republican hopeful said. "I do not believe Washington can be transformed from within by a lifelong politician. There have been too many deals, too many favors, too many entanglements and too little real-world experience managing, guiding, leading."

The 59-year-old venture capitalist turned politician made his announcement in Michigan, where he was born and his father served as a popular governor in the 1960s. The locale gave him some distance from both Washington and the heavily Democratic state where Romney served a single term as governor that ended last month and compiled a record that has already proved problematic in his White House bid.

Romney spoke of God, family and morality in his 20-minute speech, delivered at the Henry Ford Museum outside Detroit, but made only passing mention of abortion and gay rights, two issues on which his views have shifted in recent years toward a far more conservative stance.

"I believe the family is the foundation of America and that we must fight to protect and strengthen it," Romney said in a nod to social conservatives, who hold tremendous sway in the Republican nominating process. "I believe in the sanctity of human life."

Romney, who is vying to become the nation's first Mormon president, made no mention of his church. Nor did he mention President Bush, though he reiterated his support for the White House plan to increase U.S. forces in Iraq.

An "all-out civil war" could destabilize the Middle East and draw the U.S. even deeper into the region, resulting in "far more loss of human life," Romney said. "For these reasons, I believe that so long as there is a reasonable prospect of success, our wisest course is to seek stability in Iraq, with additional troops endeavoring to secure the civilian population."

With his wealth, good looks and an impressive business resume, including a role as savior of the bribery-tainted 2002 Winter Olympics, Romney enters the GOP race as one of three top-tier candidates. The two front-runners are generally considered to be Sen. John McCain of Arizona -- who sought to step on Romney's announcement Tuesday by releasing a list of Michigan endorsements -- and former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. The two have also endorsed Bush's troop surge.

Romney, who fashioned a liberal-to-moderate image when he ran for office in Massachusetts, hewed closely to conservative orthodoxy in his announcement speech. Without offering specifics, he called for tough border enforcement, lower taxes and greater fiscal restraint. "We must transform our government," he said, "to become a government that is smaller and less bureaucratic, one with fewer regulations and more freedom for our people."

The props Romney chose for the event -- a white Rambler on one side of him, a green Ford hybrid on the other and a DC-3 airplane overhead -- were meant to illustrate the "innovation and transformation" he pledged to bring to government.

He offered a subtler message with the family tableau presented at Tuesday's announcement. Joining Romney and his wife of nearly 40 years, Ann, were the couple's five sons, five daughters-in-law and 10 grandchildren. McCain and Giuliani both have divorced and remarried, the latter more recently under messy circumstances detailed in New York's tabloid newspapers.

Romney also seemed to take a swipe at Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who entered the race Saturday on the Democratic side, offering himself as a vehicle for the hopes of Americans soured on politics as usual.

"Hope alone is just crossing fingers, when what we need is industrious hands," Romney said. "It is time for hope and action. It is time to do, as well as dream."

After his announcement, Romney flew to Iowa, the first stop in a tour of early-voting states that was due to finish later this week with a major fundraiser in Boston.

mark.barabak@latimes.com

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