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Romney's new mission: To change perceptions

By Ed Hornick, CNN
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Romney: Obama's 'Hooverville'
  • Mitt Romney announced his candidacy for president on Thursday
  • Perceptions of his manner, Mormonism and compromises are key obstacles
  • Key assets are his business successes, political savvy and fundraising power
  • Romney failed to win the GOP nomination in 2008

Washington (CNN) -- On paper, Republican Mitt Romney seems to be the candidate's candidate.

The son of a former governor, Romney has demonstrated that he can raise swells of campaign cash -- and has the name recognition that helps place him high in presidential preference polls.

Romney, 64, also has the credentials of being a successful businessman and organizer, key aspects to any successful candidate. He founded Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and oversaw the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

His experience with economic issues almost certainly will be a boon in a race that will turn largely on jobs and the economy.

Romney will have a treasure trove to spend. His political action committee, Free and Strong America, has raised millions of dollars since 2009, according to federal records and his PAC.

Generally, a candidate's experience as a governor is seen as a plus, but Romney's history in Massachusetts may potentially harm him. Running the state from 2003 to 2007, Romney was known for making bipartisan compromises -- a necessary tool in a state dominated by Democrats and independents.

Mitt Romney coverage on the CNN Political Ticker

One of those compromises was a universal health care reform law that many say is the model for President Barack Obama's similar law passed in 2010. In both cases, Republicans have been by and large against the laws, arguing against the individual mandate on the state's residents.

Mitt Romney: Obama 'one-term president'

Several of his potential rivals for the party's nomination have criticized the Massachusetts universal health care plan, which they call "Romneycare," for making all state residents get health care insurance through subsidies or mandates.

Although the state has greatly expanded the number of residents receiving insurance coverage, the costs have exceeded estimates.

Romney tried to take the issue head on in the run-up to his announcement.

In mid-May, he addressed it in a speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, saying states should decide health care plans -- not the federal government.

While he says he respects those who believe he should have taken a different course as governor and realizes his explanation is "not going to satisfy everyone," he would not reject the individual insurance mandate.

"It wouldn't be honest," Romney said. "I, in fact, did what I thought was right for the people of our state."

But the health care question is not all he has to overcome: There's his religion, appearance and perceived flip-flops on issues.

Romney, who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1994, has often been caricatured through the years as a slick used-car salesman who doesn't connect well with voters. He appears, though, to be trying to change that.

Over Memorial Day weekend, Romney tweeted a photo of his family. In the image, the former governor is disheveled and in a polo shirt -- not in his usual button down shirt/jacket/tie combo combined with perfectly coiffed hair. During the 2008 presidential campaign, late-night comedians had a field day with his often stiff look -- something even Romney has joked about.

And then there's the religion issue.

A devout member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney has been peppered about his Mormon faith, which observers point out is a sensitive issue considering the religion's often criticized history of polygamy, which the church renounced in 1890. Other aspects of Mormonism -- such as the inclusion of the Book of Mormon in its canon and its regard for Latter-day Saints founder Joseph Smith as a prophet -- do not sit well with other religious conservatives who make up the Republican base.

Romney, a former missionary, has made it his mission since his last presidential run to confront criticism. In a speech in early December 2007, Romney said "I do not define my candidacy by my religion."

"Let me assure you that no authorities of my church, or of any other church for that matter, will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs, within the province of church affairs, and it ends where the affairs of the nation begin," he said.

"There is one fundamental question about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of mankind. My church's beliefs about Christ may not all be the same as those of other faiths. Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history."

Romney also is trying to defend his conservative credentials after being accused of flip-flopping on social issues such as abortion. During his campaign for governor, he defended the Supreme Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade -- but now says he's an abortion opponent.

He also backtracked on his earlier contention that he didn't support any gun-control legislation. During his 1994 Senate campaign, Romney said he supports gun-control legislation. He went on to join the National Rifle Association in 2006, and he vehemently defended restrictions on the Second Amendment.

Through all of the criticism, Romney has kept his eyes on the prize. While he failed to win the GOP nomination, Romney did not shy away from the spotlight. His 2012 campaign might have begun the day after he conceded the 2008 nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain -- and certainly after McCain lost to Obama.

He has maintained close relationships with key supporters in the early voting states, especially New Hampshire, where he owns a lake home.

I am just one force among many. But at a time like this, I think the party is looking for voices that lay out a positive ... vision for the future of this country and for our party.
--Mitt Romney

And it comes as no surprise that Romney announced his 2012 candidacy in New Hampshire -- a home away from home and a place where people have known him over the years -- New Hampshire residents get Boston television stations.

Polls taken since 2009 show that Romney often places among the top contenders in a potential matchup for 2012. Also since 2009, he has attended several events for senatorial candidates, appeared at more than a dozen rallies or fundraisers for those running for governor in 2010 and beyond, and spoken at almost two dozen meetings of Republican Party groups or conservative organizations. And he released his book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."

As the Republican Party searches for ways to rebound from being characterize as the "party of no" by Democrats, Romney clearly is trying to position himself as a means to that end.

"I am just one force among many. But at a time like this, I think the party is looking for voices that lay out a positive ... vision for the future of this country and for our party. If I can be part of that, so much the better, and there are a lot of good voices out there," Romney said. "I appreciate the fact that others disagree with me on some issues, but that kind of debate at a critical time like this is good for the country."

Romney, married to his longtime sweetheart Ann, graduated from Harvard University Law School in 1975. He has five sons -- Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben, and Craig.

CNN's Kevin Bohn, Alexander Mooney, Rebecca Stewart and Jessica Yellin contributed to this report.

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