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Romney for president! (Governor Romney, that is)

If only he was the same man now that he was then

Susan Reimer

6:00 AM EDT, October 15, 2012

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He is referred to everywhere as Gov. Mitt Romney, even though he hasn't been a governor for six years. It's a practice I have never understood. "Former" or "ex" is more accurate but apparently not as polite.

Anyway, as polls are starting to shift toward Mr. Romney, I have been thinking that I could live with a President Romney if he actually was Governor Romney, the moderate Republican who was elected in the deep, deep blue state of Massachusetts in 2003.

We have glimpsed that Romney in recent days, as the candidate attempts to tack to the center in the final weeks before the election. But he is a shadow of the progressive Governor Romney.

During his term, Mr. Romney had to work with a legislature that was almost entirely Democratic. A President Romney might have the wind of a Republican Congress at his back, but in any case it appears he can be bipartisan. "You either did that or you perished," he likes to say on the stump.

He signed a near-universal health care bill that required all Massachusetts citizens to participate. While saying on the stump that when he left office "100 percent of the children in our state had health care," he does not say that his health care plan was the blueprint for the Affordable Care Act.

As governor, he signed a ban on assault weapons and said he was opposed to Saturday night specials and cop killer bullets. But when he started to look toward the future and a run for the presidency in 2008, he declared a Right to Bear Arms Day and became a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association.

As governor, he was in favor of public funding for Planned Parenthood, saying that it was a vital health care provider for women. As recently as last week in Ohio, he said there would be no funding for Planned Parenthood in his budget.

And, when he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate against Ted Kennedy, he pledged to keep abortion "safe and legal in this country." However, late in his term as governor, he vetoed a bill that would have expanded stem cell research and another for emergency contraception (both overridden). And some of his recent statements on abortion have been kind of murky.

Senate candidate Romney, as opposed to the candidate Romney we got to know during the Republican presidential primary, wrote to Log Cabin Republicans, a gay political group, saying, "We must make equality for gays and lesbians a mainstream concern." He added that don't ask-don't tell "was the first in a number of steps that will ultimately lead to gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation's military."

As governor, he worked with the Environmental Protection Agency to lower carbon emissions from Ohio and Pennsylvania that were polluting the air over Massachusetts. However, as candidate Romney, he told residents in coal country that the EPA kills jobs and is part of a conspiracy to drive up gasoline prices so President Barack Obama's wind and solar initiatives will seem affordable. He has also said he is not convinced that humans contribute to global warming.

Mr. Romney has changed, all right. Almost before our eyes.

In the last few weeks, he has softened his position on "self-deportation," saying in Miami that he was not in favor of "a mass deportation effort." During the primaries, he said he would get rid of the Affordable Care Act the minute he took office, but on "Meet the Press" recently — and with the polls showing the public largely approves of it — he said he would keep some elements in place, including coverage for pre-existing conditions, the most popular element in the reforms.

Mr. Romney is accused of being a flip-flopper and a shape-shifter. But I think he is a shrewd guy who did whatever he had to do to get elected in one of the most liberal states in the country and again did what he had to do to get nominated in a Republican primary process dominated by social conservatives. Now he is saying whatever he has to say to persuade the fence-sitters that he is a reasonable alternative to President Obama, not his radical opposite.

"I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy," he said during the first presidential debate.

The problem for Mr. Romney is that he is neither. I have no idea which man he will be in the White House, or what he will believe. But I think he will say whatever he needs to say to win a second term.

Note: Thursday's column on goats being used against invasive vegetation in Anne Arundel County misspelled Brian Knox's last name. I regret the error.

Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at susan.reimer@baltsun and @Susan Reimer on Twitter.com.

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