WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney on Wednesday cited his record in shepherding through the Massachusetts health care law as a sign of his empathy for all people, talking far more openly than usual about a controversial plan that has caused him so much strife with conservative Republicans.
“Don’t forget -- I got everybody in my state insured,” Romney told NBC late Wednesday afternoon. “One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don’t think there’s anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record.”
Romney made the comments just before going on stage in Toledo, for a rally in which Romney used President Obama’s health care law as a chief example of what’s wrong with the current administration. The dichotomy of his statements further illustrated the tightrope Romney has had to walk in pledging to repeal President Obama’s federal law, while simultaneously trying to take credit for the state-level plan he signed into law in Massachusetts.
“I will repeal Obamacare and replace it with real health care reform,” Romney said during the rally. “Obamacare is really Exhibit No. 1 of the president’s political philosophy, and that is that government knows better than people how to run your lives.”
“I don’t believe in a bigger and bigger government,’’ he added. “I believe in free people pursuing their dreams. I believe in freedom.”
Romney cited his health care plan as a sign of his empathy a week after a video emerged showing Romney dismissing nearly half of the electorate, telling donors at a May fundraiser that 47 percent of voters considered themselves victims and were too dependent on government to consider voting for him.
After a series of polls have showed him significantly behind in key swing states, Romney conducted a series of television interviews on Wednesday. He told ABC News that he was undeterred by the recent polls -- “Frankly at this early stage, polls go up, polls go down,” he said – and adding that the first debate next week could mark a turning point for his campaign. He told CBS News that the Obama campaign was engaged in a “character assassination.”
In addition to health care, Romney told NBC that his time as a Mormon pastor illustrated his ability to care for people in need. Romney has also been reluctant to talk about his Mormon faith throughout his political life, but in recent weeks has started allowing reporters to go with him to Sunday services, and has allowed those from his church to speak about how he helped them.
“I think people have the chance, who watched our Republican convention, to see the lives that I’ve had a chance to touch during my life, to understand that as I served as a pastor of a congregation with people of all different backgrounds and economic circumstances that I care very deeply about the American people, people of different socio-economic circumstances,” Romney said in the interview with NBC’s Ron Allen.
But it was his health care comments that could trigger the most response.
Less than two months ago, Romney’s spokeswoman triggered a fierce conservative backlash when she cited Romney’s health care plan in response to a controversial ad that suggested Romney was to blame for a woman’s death because her husband had lost his health insurance when he was laid off from a company owned by Bain Capital.
The spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, called the ad misleading and disingenuous, but then added that if the man had lived in Massachusetts, where Romney spearheaded a law covering nearly everyone, he would have had health care coverage.
“To that point, you know, if people had been in Massachusetts, under Governor Romney’s health care plan, they would have had health care,” Saul said on Fox News.
Prominent conservative blogger Erick Erickson said it could “mark the day the Romney campaign died.” Commentator Ann Coulter called on Romney to fire Saul for making the comment.
Romney has previously defended his health care plan.
“Overall am I proud of the fact that we did our best for our people and got people insured?” Romney said at a health care speech in Michigan in May 2011. “Absolutely.”
He also largely stuck by it during a forum sponsored last week by the Spanish-language Univision.
“I have experience in health care reform,” he said. “Now and then the president says I’m the grandfather of Obamacare. I don’t think he meant that as a compliment but I’ll take it…I’ve actually been able to put in place a system that fit the needs of the people of my state, and I’m proud of the fact that in my state, after our plan was put in place, every child has insurance, 98 percent of adults have insurance.”