Sat, Jun 04, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Romney opens presidential bid, faces competition

AP, STRATHAM, New Hampshire

Mitt Romney formally declared his candidacy to challenge US President Barack Obama in next year’s election, but the presumed front-runner for the Republican nomination will likely face some big-name competition for his party’s backing.

The former Massachusetts governor told supporters gathered on a sunny farm in New Hampshire on Thursday that he would seek the Republican nomination to try to oust the Democratic president in November next year.

“I’m Mitt Romney and I believe in America. And I’m running for president of the United States,” Romney said in announcing his candidacy.

He chose to do so in New Hampshire because it has the first-in-the-nation primary vote.

Others could get in his way because the field of Republicans with presidential ambitions is crowded — and more divided — than usual, with the mainstream being challenged by ultraconservative Tea Party factions and others with extreme populist views.

Republican political stars Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate, and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani are both darlings of the conservative wing of the party and both caused a stir of their own with visits to the region.

Rumblings about Texas Governor Rick Perry, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and US Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota joining the race could further challenge Romney.

The former governor and business executive aggressively challenged the president while trying to pitch himself to the coalition that makes up the modern Republican Party: fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, evangelicals and libertarians.

Romney, who lost the Republican nomination to US Senator John McCain in 2008, hopes it’s now his turn, but he will have to convince fellow Republicans. Repeated polls show party members unimpressed with or indifferent to the declared candidates.

Romney’s strengths are substantial: He’s well known and he’s an experienced campaigner. He also has a personal fortune and an existing network of donors.

However, he must confront his own record of changing positions on social issues including abortion and gay rights, shifts that have left conservatives questioning his -sincerity. He also has struggled to allay some skepticism of his Mormon faith.

On top of that, Romney championed a healthcare law enacted in Massachusetts that’s similar to Obama’s national health overhaul, which conservatives despise.

His rivals, giving him unwelcome company in New Hampshire, weren’t about to let that go.

“The reality is that Obamacare and Romneycare are almost exactly the same,” Giuliani said during his visit to the state. “It’s not very helpful trying to distinguish them. I would think the best way to handle it is to say, it was a terrible mistake and if I could do it over again, I wouldn’t do it.”

Palin, too, criticized Romney for the healthcare law.

“In my opinion any mandate coming from government is not a good thing, so obviously ... there will be more explanation coming from former governor Romney on his support for government mandates,” Palin said in nearby Boston, where Romney is basing his campaign.

In recent weeks, the still-forming Republican field has become less certain. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour and former -Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee took themselves out of the race before getting in. Others, such as former US senator Rick Santorum, are set to start their campaigns in earnest.

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