Republican heavyweight Mitt Romney entered the 2012 race for the White House on Monday, forming an exploratory committee to raise money for a challenge to President Barack Obama.
Romney, an unsuccessful presidential contender in 2008, opens his campaign as a well-funded early front-runner to Obama, a Democrat. He scores high in opinion polls against other Republicans likely to seek their party’s nomination.
The former head of a private equity firm and a multimillionaire, Romney said Obama’s economic policies had failed because he did not understand how jobs were created in the real world.
“It is time that we put America back on a course of greatness, with a growing economy, good jobs and fiscal discipline in Washington,” Romney said in a short video filmed on Monday in New Hampshire and posted on his new website.
Romney is the second major Republican candidate to form an exploratory committee in the slow-starting 2012 race. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty took that first formal step on March 21.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, hovers near the top of most polls of Republicans along with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who also ran for the party’s 2008 presidential nomination.
Romney’s broad name recognition, extensive fund-raising contacts and deep pockets make him the early favorite in a Republican field still waiting to take shape. Other possible well-known contenders like Huckabee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin may not enter the race at all.
But Romney, 64, has been planning his run since he lost the 2008 presidential nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain, traveling the country frequently to speak to potential supporters and to court donors.
“He’s the guy at this point who everyone has to chase after,” Republican consultant Rich Galen said. “Given the current state of the field, Romney has to be considered the front-runner.”
Romney battled questions in the 2008 race about the depth and sincerity of his conservative principles after years governing in liberal Massachusetts, and faced questions about his Mormon faith from evangelical Christian voters.
He has already drawn criticism from conservatives for his support as governor of a broad healthcare program in Massachusetts that became a model for the national healthcare overhaul pushed and signed into law by Obama.
Democrats were holding events on Monday in Massachusetts and elsewhere to celebrate and highlight the fifth anniversary of the healthcare law in Massachusetts when Romney made his announcement.
With the health of the U.S. economy and unemployment — which hovers at just below 9 percent — likely to be a focus of the 2012 race, Romney stressed his business experience as head of private equity firm Bain Capital in his announcement.
“My work led me to become deeply involved in helping other businesses, from innovative startups to large companies going through tough times,” Romney said.
“Sometimes I was successful and helped create jobs, other times I was not. I learned how America competes with companies in other countries, why jobs leave, and how jobs are created here at home.”
Romney also stepped in to rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City after the organizing committee was tarred by allegations of bribery by top officials.
Democrats said Romney’s real business success was as a “corporate raider” who often made companies profitable by laying off employees, and said he failed to create jobs as Massachusetts governor.
“Mitt Romney has a line to sell in his announcement today, but the fact is that voters didn’t buy it in 2008 and they won’t buy it this year,” said Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman John Walsh.
Romney is the son of an automobile executive and three-term Republican governor of Michigan. He graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah and later from Harvard with a joint master’s of business and law degree.
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