SIOUX CITY, Iowa -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Monday defended his opposition to most embryonic stem cell research despite its scientific promise to cure diseases like multiple sclerosis, which afflicts his wife, Ann.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the former Massachusetts governor said he was confident that research on adult stem cells and the existing embryonic stem cell lines could eventually provide the medical answers.
"I believe that science is able to receive the stem cells necessary for research through means that don't represent a serious, moral problem," Romney said.
Scientists say embryonic stem cells hold the most promise and the research may eventually lead to treatment and perhaps cures for diseases such as Parkinson's and juvenile diabetes. Stem cells are created in the first days after conception, but some people such as social conservatives and President Bush oppose the research because days-old embryos -- usually left over from fertility treatments -- are destroyed in the effort to isolate the cells.
In August 2001, Bush restricted government funding to research using only the embryonic stem cell lines then in existence, groups of stem cells kept alive and propagating in lab dishes. Only about 21 of those lines are available for study, most created in ways that preclude use in humans.
Romney favors work on those lines and said if elected, he would increase funds for research of adult stem cells.
"It avoids all of the moral concerns and therefore presents scientific opportunity without moral dilemma," he said. "And I found no one to dispute the potential of such avenues of exploration that was able to convince me that these did not have merit."
Romney said his wife would play a prominent role in his campaign for president.
"Were she not healthy I would not have run ... " he told the AP. "She is able to manage her disease such that she does not overdo or cause herself physical problem. Were that not the case, we'd have made a different decision. We'd be in the sun somewhere."
Romney ran as a moderate in his unsuccessful bid for Senate in 1994, when he expressed support for abortion rights. He now opposes abortion, a shift that has caused consternation among some conservatives. During a campaign stop in Iowa, Romney said he did not know if the state's voters would support his recent switch on abortion.
"I respond to the questions as they arise. President Reagan was pro-choice as governor and became convinced he was wrong," he told the AP
Romney defended his recent decision to join the National Rifle Association, saying that he has always supported the 2nd Amendment and dismissing criticism that his membership amounts to political opportunism.
"I'm happy to support the NRA. They supported my campaign for governor and I clearly hope they support my campaign for president," he said.
Romney also defended his decision to vote for Democrat Paul Tsongas in the 1992 Massachusetts Democratic presidential primary.
"We have an open primary where we can vote for people other than Bill Clinton and I voted against Bill Clinton," he said.
Romney has been criticized for voting in the primary, and for giving multiple justifications for his vote. Romney scoffed at the notion that he was giving rivaling justifications for his vote.
"I pulled a Democratic primary ballot, and voted for Paul Tsongas as opposed to Bill Clinton. There was no Republican contest of significance at that time, as I recall," he said.
During his campaign appearance, Romney chided national Democrats for suggesting diplomatic negotiations with Iran, calling it a country with "jihadist leadership" more bent on destruction than the Soviet Union.
"We think of the Soviet Union as being a nuclear superpower that we negotiated with but the Soviet Union was not suicidal, it was not genocidal," Romney told reporters in Sioux City on Monday. "They wanted to maintain their integrity and not ever suffer a nuclear attack. Iran has a different orientation. We have to recognize it as a jihadist leadership with (Iranian Pres. Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad."