Romney opens presidential bid, faces competition

2011-06-03 13:27

STRATHAM, New Hampshire (AP) _ Mitt Romney formally declared his candidacy to challenge 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 here Thursday that he would seek the Republican nomination to try to oust the Democratic president in November 2012.

"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.

And rumblings about Texas Gov. Rick Perry, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. 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 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 has a personal fortune and an existing network of donors.

But 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 health care 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 health care law.

"In my opinion any mandate coming from government is not a good thing, so obviously ... there will be more explanation coming from former Gov. 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 Gov. Mitch Daniels, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee took themselves out of the race before getting in. Others, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, are set to start their campaigns in earnest.

Giuliani said he hasn't decided yet if he will run again _ like Romney he fell short in 2008 _ and expects to make up his mind by the end of the summer.

But he certainly sounded like a candidate, telling reporters that the nation is being led in the wrong direction by Obama.

"He's been in office a very long time now, and his results on the economy have been abysmal," Giuliani said. "His only answer to it has been, `Oh, I inherited this.' Well, my goodness, he's been in office long enough now, so that whatever he inherited, he should've straightened out by now."

Tea party favorite Bachmann is inching toward a run, perhaps giving the anti-tax, libertarian-leaning movement a candidate to rally around.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who last week formally joined the race, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also have sought to court those activists who haven't chosen a candidate.

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