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Associated Press – November 12, 2007
CONCORD, N.H. – Republican Mitt Romney said Monday he’s the decider, yet the presidential candidate has put aside his desire to deliver a speech about his Mormon faith on the advice of political staff – a move that speaks volumes about his campaign.
The former Massachusetts governor provides the money and persona, but he has largely yielded tactical decisions about what to say and when to say it – even on the subject of his personal faith – to a cadre of Washington insiders.
Romney bristled Monday at the suggestion he, a multimillionaire businessman but national political novice, was not the chief decision maker in his enterprise.
“I make my own decisions,” he said before participating in a Veterans Day ceremony at a retirement home.
But asked Saturday by a New Hampshire voter about delivering a speech to explain his Mormon faith, Romney said: “I sort of like the idea myself. The political advisers tell me no, no, no – it’s not a good idea. It draws too much attention to that issue alone.”
The result runs counter to much of the decision making that permeated Romney’s business background.
He talks often about hiring smart people, letting them debate all sides of an issue and then making his own decisions.
In the case of a presidential campaign, though, Romney has proven willing to surrender his judgment about big things like whether to make a speech discussing his faith, or small issues like whether to answer a reporter’s question on the way out the door.
“You know I can’t talk to you without Eric’s permission,” the presidential candidate has said on more than one occasion as he has walked with his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom.
Fehrnstrom is a former Massachusetts official, but he modeled his Statehouse communications shop after the practices used in the Bush administration. He also is part of an increasingly outnumbered Massachusetts contingent in Romney’s campaign headquarters.
Former CIA official Cofer Black, now vice chairman of Blackwater USA and head of Romney’s national security team, has urged the candidate’s hardline on Iran. Former Rep. Vin Weber of Minnesota and one-time Sen. Jim Talent, R-Mo., are vetting his domestic policy pronouncements.
Stuart Stevens and Russ Schreifer, lead admakers for President Bush’s two successful White House campaigns, are challenging another former Bush ad man, Alex Castellanos, for dominance in messaging and commercial imagery.
Meanwhile, Ron Kaufman, White House political director under former President George H.W. Bush, is an inner-circle political strategist.
And just last week, Todd Beyer, the recently departed director of White House advance, began providing advice about how best to stage Romney’s political appearances.
Romney’s weekend statement about the impact of such advisers’ opinions lifted the veil on a campaign operation that otherwise prides itself on its harmony and lack of public disagreements.
Romney is striving to become the first Mormon president, and he has insisted he welcomes all questions about his relatively unknown faith. Some have suggested a speech touching on his beliefs and clarifying the impact of his faith on his governmental decisionmaking.
Instead of reprising the speech John F. Kennedy made in 1960 amid his bid to become the first Catholic president, Romney has chosen an incremental approach in which he answers questions about his faith during town hall meetings or media interviews.
Some of those arguing in favor of such a speech have said privately they believe Romney would benefit from a similar speech since Mormons pride themselves on the separation of church and state, as well as a tolerance for all religions.
The counterargument is that discussing the tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just at the point when Romney is becoming known nationally would place too much emphasis on an element – but not the centerpiece – of his presidential resume.
Romney said Monday he hasn’t delivered any such speech not because of his advisers’ sway, but because something more fundamental to his campaign: It hasn’t become a political necessity.
“I have some folks who think I should do it soon, some say later, some say never, some say right away,” Romney said. “I’ll make the decision. But there’s no particular urgency because I’m making progress in the states where I’m campaigning.”
EDITOR’S NOTE – Glen Johnson covers Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign for The Associated Press.
Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.