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Romney kicks off White House bid

Story Highlights

• Former Massachusetts governor announces his bid from his native Michigan
• Mitt Romney has been trying to beef up his credentials with conservatives
• Candidate's Mormon faith could be a campaign issue
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DEARBORN, Michigan (CNN) -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney returned to his native state of Michigan on Tuesday to kick off his bid officially for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

Romney evoked memories of his father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, as he spoke from the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. His presidential bid comes 40 years after his late father made an unsuccessful run for the GOP nomination in 1968.

He said he chose the site of his announcement because of the memories associated with it and the examples of innovation that it contained. ( What was missing from the Romney announcementexternal link)

"Innovation and transformation have been at the heart of America's success," Romney said. "If there ever was a time when innovation and transformation were needed in government, it is now."

Romney was to follow his announcement with a four-day, six-state tour that was to include stops in three crucial early primary and caucus states -- Iowa, South Carolina and New Hampshire -- as well as Massachusetts and Florida.

The telegenic Romney, 59, who was a successful venture capitalist before entering politics, finished a single term as Massachusetts' governor in January after opting not to seek re-election. He was elected to the top post in the overwhelmingly Democratic Bay State in 2002 after leading a successful turnaround effort at the scandal-plagued Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

For the past two years, Romney -- who was seen as a moderate when he was elected in 2002 -- has been trying to buff up his credentials with conservatives, leading some critics to accuse him of changing his positions in anticipation of a White House bid. (Watch how Romney has tried to appeal to conservatives Video)

When announcing his candidacy, Romney emphasized his positions that would appeal to social and fiscal conservatives.

"I believe the family is the foundation of America -- and that we must fight to protect and strengthen it. I believe in the sanctity of human life. I believe that people and their elected representatives should make our laws, not unelected judges," Romney said.

"I believe we are overtaxed and government is overfed," Romney added. "Washington is spending too much money."

Romney's positions on social issues may open him up, however, from attacks from both the left and the right.

"His rhetoric and his positions on [issues] like abortion, like gay rights, like stem cell research totally changed when he decided his focus should be on conservative votes across the country," said Massachusetts House Speaker Salvatore Dimasi, a Democrat.

When he ran for governor, Romney said that while he was personally opposed to abortion, he would not try to change Massachusetts' abortion laws. But in 2005, he wrote in The Boston Globe that his views had "evolved and deepened" and that states should be allowed to decide whether to keep abortion legal. He also vetoed a bill to allow embryonic stem-cell research.

"On abortion, I was not always a Ronald Reagan conservative," Romney said. "Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way. But like him, I learned with experience."

In 1994, making an uphill bid to unseat Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, Romney expressed support for a proposed federal law banning discrimination against gay men and lesbians. But when Massachusetts' highest court legalized same-sex marriage in 2003, Romney became a vociferous opponent of extending marriage to same-sex couples, saying such a move threatened to undermine the American family.

The home page of his presidential exploratory committee's Web site features the following Romney quote emblazoned in a banner next to his photo: "America cannot continue to lead the family of nations around the world if we suffer the collapse of the family here at home."

Unlike two other leading GOP presidential candidates, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Romney supports a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- a proposal dear to evangelical conservatives who play a major role in Republican presidential politics.

However, as Romney tries to woo those voters, his religion may present an obstacle.

Romney is a member of the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church, which some conservative evangelicals view as a non-Christian, cultlike organization.

In his address, Romney tried to reach out to Christian conservatives.

"I believe in God, and I believe that every person in this great country and every person on this grand planet is a child of God," Romney said. "We are all sisters and brothers."

"I think there will be attacks on Romney that will be launched by third-party groups about his religion," said David Magleby, a dean at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a Mormon institution where Romney received a bachelor's degree in 1971. "I think that's almost a certainty."

Rick Beltram, the Spartanburg County, South Carolina, GOP party chairman, said he has told Romney that "the one issue he's going to have to properly communicate is what the Mormon faith is all about."

A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll last year found that 37 percent of Americans said they would not vote for a Mormon for president. But Romney's aides have said they are confident he can overcome, or at least mitigate, the religion issue by focusing on the common conservative values Mormons share with other denominations.

A poll conducted late last month by CNN and Opinion Research Corp. showed that among registered Republicans nationwide, Giuliani was the choice of 32 percent, compared with 26 percent for McCain, 9 percent for former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and 7 percent for Romney, with a sampling error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.

So far, 10 Republicans have either announced a 2008 presidential bid or plan to form an exploratory committee. In addition to Romney, McCain and Giuliani, the list includes Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas, former Govs. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, Jim Gilmore of Virginia and Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin; and Reps. Duncan Hunter of California, Ron Paul of Texas and Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

CNN's Candy Crowley contributed to this report.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announces his bid Tuesday at Dearborn's Henry Ford Museum, which he said he used to visit with his father.



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