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Romney takes 1st step for presidential bid

Massachusetts' outgoing governor sets up an exploratory committee in an expected run for the GOP nomination.

January 04, 2007|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Leaving one political office with his eyes on another, Mitt Romney took the first formal step Wednesday into the race for the Republican presidential nomination on his last full day as governor of Massachusetts.

While not yet declaring his candidacy, Romney filed papers with the Federal Election Commission setting up a presidential exploratory committee, a step that allows him to raise and spend money in the initial pursuit of the party's 2008 nomination.

The one-term governor is positioning himself as a conservative alternative to Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. McCain and Giuliani formed exploratory committees late last year.

Romney has established support teams in some of the small states that have played an important role in selecting presidential nominees, going head-to-head with McCain in the early effort to line up effective organizations in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

"He has been extremely aggressive," said Tobe Berkovitz, a longtime political consultant who is now associate dean at Boston University's school of communications. "He's gotten himself in position to break into the top tier."

Romney, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, is already facing accusations that he has shifted positions on several social issues, such as gay rights. He opposes same-sex marriage after having sought to position himself in the 1994 campaign as a stronger supporter of "full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens" than Kennedy.

The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday challenged Romney over his past statements on abortion. In 1994, the Democrats contend, Romney said: "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal." Last February, Romney said, according to the Democrats: "I've never used either title, pro-life or pro-choice, in the past. I said I don't favor abortion."

In October, he said: "I call myself firmly pro-life."

His position on such hot-button social issues, Berkovitz said, "could be his Achilles' heel with Republican activists."

Romney's communications director, Kevin Madden, said: "If the DNC is after us, we must be doing something right."

Romney, 59, would be the first president to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter--day Saints, if elected.

In a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in June, 37% of those surveyed said they did not think they could vote for a Mormon for the presidency -- a challenge Romney's father, Gov. George Romney of Michigan, faced in 1968 when he ran for the Republican presidential nomination.

Ron Kaufman, a longtime political advisor to the family of President Bush and a member of the Republican National Committee from Massachusetts who is assisting Romney, said religion would not matter to voters in 2008.

"People are going to want someone who is a moral, ethical person," he said, adding that Romney "governed a very, very blue state as a conservative."

Romney plans to hold a daylong fundraising effort on Monday, summoning supporters to phone banks at Boston's waterfront convention center.

Announcing the formation of the campaign exploration organization, he told reporters in Boston: "I have a feeling we are going to be pretty busy. We have filed exploratory papers today. So, the process is moving forward on that front."

james.gerstenzang@

latimes.com

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