DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) — Mitt Romney officially entered the 2008 presidential race Tuesday, a former one-term Republican governor of Massachusetts suggesting that his record of leadership inside and outside government uniquely positions him to tackle the country’s challenges.
"I don’t believe Washington can be transformed from within by lifetime politicians," Romney said, seeking to turn a potential liability, his limited political experience, into an asset. "There’ve been too many deals, too many favors, too many entanglements — and too little real world experience managing, guiding, leading."
"I don’t believe Washington can be transformed by someone who has never tried doing such a thing before, in any setting, by someone who has never run a corner store, let alone the largest enterprise in the world," he added.
The comments were veiled swipes at Romney’s top rival for the GOP nomination, four-term Sen. John McCain of Arizona. Only four years of elective office behind him, Romney is not nearly as well known nationally as McCain and former two-term New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, political celebrities who consistently lead popularity polls.
A serious contender even though he is little more than a blip in such surveys, Romney is seeking to convince Republican primary voters that his record of success in the private, public and voluntary sectors proves he has the know-how to lead a country at a crossroads.
The public, he said, has lost faith in government.
"It is time for innovation and transformation in Washington," Romney said. "It is what our country needs. It is what our people deserve."
And, he said, he is the candidate who has proven he can deliver.
"Talk is easy, talk is cheap. It is the doing that’s hard. And it is only in doing that hopes and dreams can come to life," Romney added.
A successful venture capitalist who amassed a fortune and the savior of the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Romney hopes the party’s conservative wing will focus on his deft managerial skills — and set aside any uneasiness it may have about his credentials on issues it holds dear and his faith. If elected, Romney will be the nation’s first Mormon president.
In what amounts to a made-for-TV coming-out tour, Romney announced his candidacy in Michigan, the place of his birth and upbringing as well as an important stop on the path to the GOP nomination. He then heads to other states that hold early primaries and caucuses — Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina — before returning to Boston for a major fundraiser. The three-day swing is intended to introduce the candidate to the nation. He’s scheduled to visit New Hampshire on Wednesday.
Opening the tour, Romney gave a speech to hundreds of supporters at the sprawling Henry Ford Museum outside of Detroit, the automotive capital and a site chosen for its emphasis on ingenuity that changed the nation.
Juxtaposing the present with the past, Romney stood on stage at a podium before an American Motors Corp. Rambler from yesteryear and a Ford Escape Hybrid in the airport-hangar-like museum, as he invoked the memory of his late father. A Michigan governor in the 1960s and an AMC chief executive, George Romney made a short-lived attempt at the presidency four decades ago.
A son seeking to succeed where a father failed, Romney became an official GOP presidential candidate flanked by his wife since 1969, Ann, their five sons and five daughters-in-law, and the Romneys’ ten grandchildren — a not-so-subtle message that he is a family man.
In his speech, Romney laid out his vision for the country, saying that the United States must build a brighter future for the American family, transform its role abroad and strengthen itself at home.
"America can’t continue to lead the family of nations if we fail the families at home," he said, adding that values and morals are "under constant attack" and promoting families where a mother and a father are in each child’s life.
Abroad, he said the United States must regain its standing in the world and he called for the United States’ role to be defined not only in terms of military might but also by its willingness to lead, serve and share.
At home, Romney called for reining in government, making it smaller and less bureaucratic with fewer regulations, and giving power and freedom back to the people, in part, in the form of lower taxes, better schools and more available health care.
On Iraq, Romney reiterated his support for President Bush’s policy in the nearly four-year-old war, although he did not name the president, and said that failure in Iraq "could be devastating" for the United States and could mean a future with far more military involvement and far more loss of American life.
"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.
Seeking to convince conservatives that he is one of them, Romney invoked God and emphasized principles considered the bedrock of the GOP.
"I believe that the family is the foundation of America — and that it needs to be protected and strengthened," he said. "I believe in the sanctity of human life."
"I believe that people and their elected representatives should make our laws, not unelected judges," Romney continued. "I believe we are overtaxed and government is overfed. Washington is spending too much money."
"I believe that homeland security begins with securing our borders," he added. "I believe that our best days are before us because I believe in America."
Romney long has been laying the groundwork for a presidential run, and his entrance into the crowded GOP presidential field came as no surprise.
He’s a prolific fundraiser who is expected to easily collect the tens of millions of dollars needed for a serious bid. He has built a national campaign organization staffed with top political operatives, and he has strong grassroots support in several important states.
A businessman, Romney, 59, helped found a multibillion-dollar venture capital firm, Bain Capital, that invested in companies like Staples, the office-supply giant.
Later, he stepped in to take over the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. A bribery scandal had threatened to implode the games, but they ended up a success with Romney at the helm.
As governor of Massachusetts, Romney was credited with closing a $3 billion budget deficit without raising taxes and pushing a comprehensive overhaul of health insurance system the state.
He tried to enter politics in 1994 with a failed bid to unseat Democratic lion Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. It wasn’t until 2002 that he tried again, running as he did in his first race as a moderate in one of the most liberal states in the country. Now he’s having to answer for his statements and positions back then as he tries to campaign as the more conservative candidate to McCain and Giuliani.
During the Senate race, he wrote a letter promising a gay Republican group he would be a stronger advocate for gays and their rights than Kennedy. Nevertheless, he insists he has been an unflinching opponent of gay marriage.
Also, in the two previous campaigns, he said that regardless of personal beliefs, abortion should be safe and legal. Now, he describes himself as pro-life and argues that Roe v. Wade should be replaced with state abortion regulations.