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Romney reaches out to business, but isn’t ready to show hand

Mitt Romney addressed thousands at the annual meeting of the International Franchise Association. Mitt Romney addressed thousands at the annual meeting of the International Franchise Association.
By Glen Johnson
Globe Staff / February 15, 2011

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LAS VEGAS — Mitt Romney sought yesterday to distinguish himself from President Obama, his potential 2012 election opponent, by casting himself as a friend to the nation’s business community.

A week after Obama tried to repair relations with the US Chamber of Commerce, a pro-business target of the president and his fellow Democrats during last year’s midterm elections, Romney was the keynote speaker before thousands of attendees at the annual meeting of the International Franchise Association.

The former governor of Massachusetts was not subtle in his outreach to the small business owners who populate the group, highlighting his past as a venture capitalist and aligning himself with their workplace values.

“I respect American business, and people who start businesses that are small and grow to be large are people that I salute,’’ he said.

Romney went on to focus on what he saw as differences between the public and private sectors, often referring to “they’’ in government and saying “I’m not really a politician yet. I have to get elected at least twice to be a politician.’’

Romney decided against seeking a second term in 2006 to make what turned out to be an unsuccessful presidential run in 2008. He is expected to launch a second White House campaign in the spring, although he told the franchisees in response to a question that he was not prepared to announce his candidacy in front of them yesterday.

Romney said private sector work is “far less forgiving’’ than government work, because when government makes a mistake, “we simply pass that cost on to the taxpayers, or we borrow more money and pass it on to the next generation.’’

Small business owners know, he said, that if “you make a mistake like that, you go out of business. You lose your job. You lose other people’s jobs. . . . That’s why the best and brightest are in your world, and not in the government world.’’

Business owners, Romney said, also analyze data. In government, however, “the policy makers, the politicians, they have their answers without benefit of the data.’’

And he said government leaders have no concept of the value of incentives.

“In government, they spend little time thinking about what impact what they do has on human behavior, because, frankly, they’ve lived so long in a realm where they can command what you do, they don’t think a lot about how to convince you or encourage you to do what they want you to do,’’ said Romney.

Aides refused to make the former governor available to the media after his speech. He did meet with some of his 2008 supporters, as well as a second group of businessmen and women to talk about jobs.

Romney is expected to meet this morning with potential campaign fund-raisers.

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.