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Romney takes next big step toward run for president

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By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / April 12, 2011

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WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney said yesterday he is forming a committee to explore another run for the presidency, a crucial step that allows him to raise money for a bid he has been preparing for almost since he lost the 2008 Republican nomination.

With little fanfare for the much-expected move, the former Massachusetts governor revealed the decision in an understated video posted on a website and on his Facebook page. The setting — an unannounced visit yesterday morning to meet with University of New Hampshire students — was telling: The Granite State is considered a must-win primary for Romney.

“From my vantage point in business and in government, I have become convinced that America has been put on a dangerous course by Washington politicians, and it has become even worse during the last two years,’’ Romney said in the video. “But I am also convinced that with able leadership, America’s best days are still ahead.’’

Romney plans to open his campaign headquarters next month in Boston — in the same building his last campaign was based, in the North End. Aides declined to say whether he would participate in the first GOP presidential debate, scheduled for May 5.

The only other top-tier candidate who has announced an exploratory committee is former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. Several others, including the former House speaker, Newt Gingrich, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, and former senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, are leaning toward entering the race. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin remain key unknowns.

By announcing early, Romney has a head start on filling his campaign coffers by June 30, the end of the second quarter’s reporting period. The money race is an early barometer for a candidacy, and Romney is hoping to make a big statement about his financial strength.

“We all knew that [Romney] was going to run,’’ said Scott McLean, a political science professor at Quinnipiac University. “He’s really been running for president ever since the day after the 2008 election, trying in one subtle way or another to say, ‘I told ya so. You should have nominated me.’ He has a lot of establishment Republicans listening to that.’’

Romney’s biggest hurdle is his health care plan in Massachusetts, which was a template for President Obama’s national plan. Republicans have pummeled the Obama law and Romney’s rivals are expected to go after him for his role.

Romney made his announcement as Democrats were trying to tweak him by reminding voters that today was the five-year anniversary of his signing of the Massachusetts version of the health care law. Democrats in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Iowa have been holding events to help cement in voters’ minds Romney’s key role in the issue — and distributing photos of a giddy Romney laughing at his signing ceremony with the late liberal icon Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

Romney has largely defended his Bay State plan but said he would repeal the federal plan because he thinks it overreaches into the rights of states.

“In our view, every day is a good day to talk about jobs and the economy,’’ spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said, when asked whether the timing of Romney’s video announcement was designed to distract from the health care anniversary.

Romney did not mention health care during his announcement, even though he touted his record as governor in balancing the state budget and restoring a $2 billion rainy day fund.

The campaign chose to make the announcement in a way that was almost deliberately understated. The video was taped following a private event talking with UNH students who are nervous about getting jobs after graduation.

“He did mention as a presidential candidate what he would do, but I wouldn’t say he declared that he was running,’’ said Ashley Calderwood, 22, a business administration major who was among about 25 students who spent two hours with Romney. Calderwood said she is an independent from Amesbury, Mass., but plans to register in New Hampshire.

“It felt really personal, and I liked that,’’ she added.

Romney then put out a Twitter message at 3:43 p.m. and directed supporters to www.mittromney.com, which included the video. That site includes a new logo and slogan for his campaign: Romney, Believe in America, with red, white, and blue stripes on the R of his name.

The “Believe in America’’ line is the revised subtitle to his book “No Apology.’’ When it was originally released last year, the subtitle was “The Case for American Greatness.’’

Pawlenty also announced his exploratory committee through a video posted online. But Pawlenty’s was heavily produced, with a montage of him in various settings as soaring music played. Romney’s video, by contrast, was a single shot of him standing in front of a track and field complex in Durham. He wore an open-collared shirt and a windbreaker for the biggest announcement he has made since Feb. 7, 2008, when he dropped out of the race.

The clip, which runs 2 1/2 minutes, focuses mostly on the economy, which is expected to be the crux of his campaign. He spoke about the high unemployment rate and walking through a neighborhood of foreclosed homes in north Las Vegas.

“President Obama’s policies have failed,’’ he said. “He and virtually all the people around him have never worked in the real economy. They just don’t know how jobs are created in the private sector. That’s where I spent my entire career.’’

“Sometimes I was successful and helped create jobs, other times I was not,’’ he added. “I learned how America competes with companies in other countries, why jobs leave, and how jobs are created here at home.’’

Within hours, Democrats nationally began criticizing Romney. The Democratic National Committee distributed a “Fact Check’’ on Romney’s claims as a jobs creator, while Massachusetts and New Hampshire Democrats took him to task as someone without a true backbone.

The Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman, John Walsh, said the video “is just the latest example of our former governor attempting to recreate his persona and his record. He touts himself as a job creator but as governor, his jobs record was abysmal.’’

Walsh added: “As always, Mitt Romney has a line to sell in his announcement today, but the fact is that voters didn’t buy it in 2008 and they won’t buy it this year.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.