Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sought to assure 50 of the most conservative members of Congress of his anti-abortion and anti-gay-marriage credentials yesterday as he solicited their support for his White House run.
When he ran for governor in 2002, Romney told Massachusetts voters he would preserve legal access to abortion. During an unsuccessful run for the Senate eight years earlier, he said he would be a more effective advocate for gay rights than Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy.
But now, as he pivots from governing one of the most liberal states in the nation to seeking the GOP nomination for president, he is talking up his defense of traditional marriage and his conversion experience on abortion. "The issues of marriage and life are at the heart of any civil society," Romney told members of the Republican Study Committee during a lunchtime address at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. "I concluded that I needed to be wary of people who would experiment with life, who experiment with our kids, and who toy with the building blocks of family and society."
Some Republicans say Romney's changing positions might arouse the skepticism of the religious conservatives who play a powerful role in the party's nominating process. But Rep. J. Gresham Barrett, from the key early primary state of South Carolina, applauded his speech.
"It's one thing to flip-flop," he said. "It's another thing to say, 'I've had a revelation.'"
About half of the members of the Republican Study Committee, out of power for the first time in 12 years, arrived in Baltimore on Thursday for a three-day retreat organized and funded by the Heritage Foundation. Seminar topics have included "Conservatism in the New Political Environment," "Values Agenda in the 110th Congress" and "Foreign Policy Initiatives and Iraq."
On Thursday, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told members to get over the midterm elections, unite on their principles and charge ahead, participants said. Yesterday, former Majority Leader Tom DeLay told them they had the energy, the enthusiasm and the passion to move House Republicans forward.
"Our challenge is solidifying behind an agenda that can be articulated to the American people as being positive, optimistic, hopeful and freedom-oriented, and to do so in way that the vast majority of our conference is able to embrace," said Rep. Tom Price, Republican of Georgia.
Romney was one of three Republican presidential contenders invited to address the group. Former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani told organizers he had a scheduling conflict. Sen. John McCain of Arizona did not respond.
In a wide-ranging address, Romney spoke of ensuring American economic success against rising competition from China and India by investing in education and technology.
"Where we invest in technology, we lead the world," he said.
He said the immigration system needed fixing and spoke of "the challenge of the jihadist." He said he supported President Bush's plan to send more U.S. troops to Baghdad, and said Iranians must be made to understand that acquiring nuclear weapons would be "a source of peril."