By LIZ SIDOTI
Republican Mitt Romney will formally announce his candidacy for president next week in Michigan, his native state and an important early test for the GOP nomination, campaign aides said Tuesday.
The former one-term Massachusetts governor will make his announcement Feb. 13, and then will visit Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina Ã¢â‚¬â€ the first states to hold 2008 contests.
He will return to Boston two days later, where he will hold what his campaign is calling “a unity event” with supporters, aides said. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plans were not public.
The announcement had been expected.
Romney, 59, created an exploratory committee in January and then held a major fundraiser that netted $6.5 million in contributions and pledges to show he was a serious contender able to challenge Sen. John McCain and Rudy Giuliani, the other top-tier Republican candidates. Both have created exploratory committees but neither has formally announced a candidacy even though it’s all but certain both will run.
For Romney, the initial steps were a formality. It has long been known that he aspired to the presidency. He has spent months building a national campaign organization, hiring top political talent, courting fundraisers and putting support networks in place in key states. His campaign recently opened its headquarters along Boston’s waterfront.
In Dearborn, Mich., Romney will hold what amounts to a made-for-TV coming out event at the Henry Ford Museum in the state where he was born. He has a base of support in the battleground state and deep roots. His father, George Romney, was governor in the 1960s, and served as chief executive of the American Motors Corp. The elder Romney made an unsuccessful bid for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination.
The announcement comes midway through the first fundraising quarter of 2007. The timing could create a burst of momentum to increase donations as Romney seeks to ensure he posts big fundraising numbers on March 31, the end of the first financial reporting period.
Romney is seeking to convince the GOP’s conservative flank, whose support is pivotal in GOP presidential nomination contests, that he shares their values and stands with them on social issues, including abortion and gay marriage.
But he’s been forced to explain inconsistencies in his record from when he ran as a moderate in his two previous campaigns Ã¢â‚¬â€ a successful bid for Massachusetts governor in 2002 and an unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a liberal icon, in 1994.
Romney supported abortion rights until two years ago, when he says he had a change of heart during a legislative debate on stem cell research. He has also taken positions sympathetic to gay rights in the past, although he opposes gay marriage.
A Mormon, Romney’s faith also could pose another challenge. No one from his religion has been elected president.
His campaign hopes that his record of accomplishment in both the private and public sectors overrides primary voters’ concerns.
Romney made his reputation in the Boston business community, where he helped found a multibillion-dollar venture capital firm after earning degrees from Harvard Business and Law schools. He rose to national prominence when he successfully resurrected the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, which were mired in a bribery scandal.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2007 The Associated Press