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Mitt Romney makes case for possible third run

Mitt Romney said Friday night that he is giving “serious consideration” to another campaign.Mike Blake/REUTERS

SAN DIEGO — Mitt Romney began to more forcefully articulate his case for a third run for the presidency Friday, telling a crowd of Republican activists and power brokers that the party needs to emphasize a more robust foreign policy, opportunity for all, and a fight against poverty.

Two years after Romney lost the White House while being tagged as a wealthy businessman who doesn’t care for the poor, a stiff campaigner, and a foreign policy neophyte, Romney began the initial steps of trying to convince the party faithful here that he may be uniquely qualified to again be their nominee.


He tried to methodically address each issue even as he remained coy about whether he would ultimately mount another run.

At one point, he talked about his time working with the poor and sick as a pastor in the Mormon Church. He mixed self-deprecating humor with biting criticism of the “Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama foreign policy,” and tried to bring new levity to his often dry campaign style.

“The most frequently asked question I get is, ‘What does Ann think about all this?’ ” he said, in his first public remarks after announcing to a group of donors Jan. 9 that he was considering a third presidential campaign. “She believes people get better with experience. And heaven knows I have experience running for president.”

After days of criticism that he has little rationale for running again, Romney and his wife, Ann, came aboard the USS Midway aircraft carrier, where he spoke at the conclusion of the Republican National Committee’s winter meeting.

He was a late addition to the schedule, agreeing to come only in the days after he announced he was considering another campaign, jolting not only his party but many of his former advisers who thought he had retired from politics.


“Gosh, it is good to be back with so many good friends,” Romney said. “It is like coming back to a high school reunion, to see all of my friends here.” After nearly 15 minutes of remarks, he lingered with the crowd, taking photos and signing autographs and saying, over and over, “Thanks you guys!”

The gathered activists have heard from several other potential presidential candidates over the past three days, and many in the crowd have been deeply skeptical of Romney’s flirtations with another campaign.

Romney’s close team of advisers has been taken aback by some of the criticism, and is trying to evaluate whether the skepticism will fade as Romney continues laying the groundwork for a campaign.

The crowd was warm and appreciative, but far from outright enthusiastic.

Romney himself has been putting out a flurry of phone calls to gauge reaction, as some of his former aides and donors rescind agreements to go with other campaigns until Romney makes up his mind.

Top Republicans have also been asking how another Romney campaign would be different from his 2012 race, which was rife with strategic and tactical blunders and resulted in an RNC report that was harshly critical of his performance.

Some have demanded privately and publicly that Romney demonstrate a willingness to shake up his team of political advisers. But despite the portrayal of him as a wealthy businessman — who at one point declared in 2012, “I like being able to fire people” — Romney has often struggled with letting close aides go.


One donor who has been loyal to Romney and is familiar with Romney’s private business style said that while Romney oversaw layoffs at businesses owned by his former private equity firm, Bain Capital, he rarely fired people personally.

“Contrary to the image created by the Obama campaign, he does not like to fire people,” the donor said. “He’s very loyal. So changing his team will require him to do something that’s not in his comfort zone.”

Throughout his political career, the former Massachusetts governor has surrounded himself with essentially the same core team of advisers. And now, even as donors and other supporters push Romney to bring in fresh blood for a possible third presidential bid, he is still relying on the same team for advice, strategic counsel, and early moves to form a 2016 campaign staff.

During Romney’s last bid, few staffers were fired and there wasn’t a major shake-up, even amid calls for change as he struggled to defeat an array of weaker primary challengers.

Throughout the past two years, Romney has often kept in touch with the advisers who have shepherded his political career since 2002, when he won the Massachusetts governor’s race. Those aides ran his failed 2008 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, as well as his 2012 bid.

They include Eric Fehrnstrom, who has handled communications and messaging; Beth Myers, his 2008 campaign manager and senior adviser; and Peter Flaherty, who has reached out to the religious community and been a senior adviser. Romney’s close friend, Bob White, longtime confidant, Ron Kaufman, and finance chairman Spencer Zwick also have been constantly present in his inner circle.


Romney has remained in close touch with Stuart Stevens, the senior strategist who took a brunt of the blame for the 2012 race for being unable to get Romney to show more personality and deliver a strong message that went beyond anti-Obama rhetoric. It is unclear what kind of role Stevens would play in a 2016 campaign.

Mike Murphy, another longtime Romney confidant who advised him in 2002, has kept a relationship with Romney — even helping him with ads to air during the 2014 midterms — but Murphy is now the chief strategist for potential GOP candidate Jeb Bush.

During his remarks Friday night Romney appeared a little rusty at times — saying, “Liberia is in disarray. Libya, excuse me” — but he largely focused on outlining the three pillars of a third campaign: foreign policy, a more stable economy, and fighting poverty.

He ticked off a series of hot spots around the globe, saying the world is more dangerous now than it was when President Obama took over.

“Terrorism is not on the run,” he said, saying the Obama policy has been marked by “speaking loudly and carrying a small stick.”

He said the economy still needs to improve, and claimed that the war on poverty launched more than 50 years ago by President Lyndon Johnson had failed.


“Under President Obama, the rich have gotten richer, income inequality has gotten worse, and there are more people in poverty in American than ever before,” said Romney, who was often pilloried for his wealth. “Their liberal policies are good every four years for a campaign, but they don’t get the job done.”

One revealing moment came when he talked about his wife, saying that she knows his true heart “in a way that few people do,” suggesting that he failed to show it to the rest of the country. He then spoke about his time working in the Mormon Church, a topic that Romney assiduously avoided during his previous presidential campaigns.

“For over 10 years, as you know, I served as a pastor for a congregation and for groups of congregations,” he said. “And so she’s seen me work for people who are very poor, to get them help and some assistance. . . . She knows where my heart is.”

Romney never stated whether he would run for president, saying only, “I’m giving some serious consideration to the future” and that he would support whoever the nominee happens to be.

“Now there’s some speculation about whether I’m about to embark on a political endeavor,” Romney said near the start of his remarks. “Let me state unequivocally that I have no intention of running for US Senate in Massachusetts.”

Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com.