Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts governor Mitt… (Paul J. Richards / AFP/Getty…)
Mitt Romney said at the Republican presidential debate in Jacksonville, Fla., on Thursday night that he was not “terribly politically involved” until he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
That statement, of course, omits his failed run for theU.S. Senateagainst Ted Kennedy in 1994.
Romney was answering a question from debate moderator Wolf Blitzer of CNN about the Romney’s campaign suggestion that Newt Gingrich wasn’t as close to Republican icon Ronald Reagan as Gingrich ceaselessly contends.
Gingrich, who was a Republican member of the House from Georgia during Reagan’s two terms, has tried to claim Reagan’s mantle throughout the 2012 campaign.
But while Romney’s campaign has sent around releases that highlight Gingrich’s criticism of Reagan’s policies in Latin America, Romney himself stayed away Thursday from driving a wedge between Gingrich and the late president.
“At the time Ronald Reagan was president, I was just getting started” as a businessman, Romney said, implying that he was in no position to know the nature of Gingrich’s relationship with Reagan.
“I was looking at politics from afar and learning as I went on,” Romney said, adding that he was asked to rescue the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City and then persuaded by friends back home in Massachusetts to run for governor as a Republican. “That’s when I became terribly politically involved,” Romney said.
Gingrich wasn’t about to let Romney off the hook. After noting that he was “vastly closer to Reagan,” Gingrich immediately mentioned Romney’s run against Kennedy, when Romney held a more moderate persona politically, and implied that Romney had, well, changed.
“He’s more mature, more conservative,” Gingrich said of Romney’s ideological evolution. “I accept that. It’s a good thing.”
Romney saw where Gingrich was going. “I’ve never voted for a Democrat when there’s a Republican on the ballot,” Romney said. “Any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took.”
Romney was right in at least one instance. In the Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary in 1992, Romney, then an independent, didn’t vote for Clinton. He voted for Massachusetts Sen. Paul Tsongas.
At the time, Romney said he favored Tsongas’ ideas. Fifteen years later, during his first run for president, Romney said he voted for Tsongas because he knew he would likely lose against the Republican in the general election,George H.W. Bush. Clinton won the election.
Romney still had a dig up his sleeve, however. Speaking about the bond between Gingrich and Reagan, Romney told the Jacksonville crowd that Gingrich could "speak for himself" on the subject.
"The Reagan diaries can lay that out as well," he added.
A "super PAC" that supports Romney, Restore Our Future, has been running anti-Newt ads in Florida that point out that Reagan's diaries mention Gingrich only once.