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Detroit Free Press endorses Mitt Romney

1:04 PM, Feb 23, 2012   |    comments
Mitt Romney, solidly back in the frontrunner's seat, swept to victory in Nevada's Republican presidential caucuses Saturday. (AP file photo)
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(DETROIT FREE PRESS) - This endorsement should be a slam dunk for Mitt Romney.

His record and history - his term as governor of Massachusetts, his rescue of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, even his time as a venture capitalist and management consultant - make him far more qualified to represent the Republican Party in the 2012 presidential race than the other candidates.

His personal background, as a native Detroiter and the youngest son of a successful and popular governor here, also makes him an obvious pick for Michigan's largest news organization.

But for the past 12 months, Romney has been refashioning himself as something other than what his record suggests. He has made gestures toward economic and social radicalism, and eschewed the common sense of cooperative governing that made him a success in Massachusetts.

• Reading this on a mobile device? Click here to watch an interview about this endorsement with Detroit Free Press Editorial Page Editor Stephen Henderson

Romney was also dead wrong when he opposed government bailouts for the auto industry (Michigan's most vital economic engine) in late 2008. And he has since adopted a recalcitrant and, at times, revisionist defense of his position in the face of overwhelming evidence that the bailouts he opposed were necessary.

No doubt, much of Romney's shifting owes to the nature of the GOP primary, which has been dominated by the party's furthest right elements. To compete with stauncher conservatives of lesser achievement and stature, Romney has essentially played down to their level. He is chest-beating and straining to prove his ideological bona fides (recently, he called himself "severely" conservative), rather than focusing on the nuanced, sophisticated strength of his record.

That's a mistake he will need to correct if he becomes the GOP nominee and hopes to even compete with President Barack Obama in the fall. But Romney, unlike the zealous Rick Santorum, the impulsive Newt Gingrich and the backward-thinking Ron Paul, is preferable to the rest of the field.

He is the only one who has the combination of résumé and bearing to occupy the Oval Office. The Free Press endorses MITT ROMNEY today for the 2012 Michigan Republican presidential primary - with the hope that he can soon re-embrace his long record of level-headed, steady leadership.

Proven past leadership

Romney's chief qualifications for the presidency come from his leadership as governor of Massachusetts and as savior of the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.

He came to the 2002 Olympics after calamitous previous leadership had left the event with a $379-million shortfall; by the time the Games concluded, Romney had turned them into a $100-million profit-maker.

It was an extraordinary management performance, and it demonstrated how Romney could weave warring, disparate factions together around a common purpose and push everyone forward toward success.

As governor, Romney was a Republican leader in one of the most liberal states but still managed to achieve major reforms with lasting impact. He did so by working with Democratic leaders and by focusing on problem-solving rather than point-scoring or being a polemicist.

That was true with education, where Massachusetts adopted a sweeping reform effort under Romney. It focused not just on testing (something Romney strongly supports) and accountability for teachers and schools, but also on expanding full-day kindergarten, providing incentives for teachers whose students excel, and financial help for families trying to pay for college.

Massachusetts is now considered one of the leading states both in education outcomes (highest test scores in the country on national tests) and standards.

As governor, Romney supported the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.

Romney's economic leadership in Massachusetts was mixed, but mirrors some of the same troubles President Obama has had in Washington.

Romney took office at the tail end of a bad recession, and the state was losing jobs quickly. That stabilized while he was governor, and he posted overall job growth over his time in office. Job growth in Massachusetts, though, was slower than it was in all but three other states while Romney was governor.

Romney did not raise taxes as governor and, for a time, was able to balance a budget that had been badly out of whack, but he left office with the state facing a significant budget gap.

Troubling changes

Romney also shepherded a massive health care reform program in Massachusetts, one that included an insurance mandate that served, at least partially, as the blueprint for President Obama's health care reforms in 2009. Those reforms were also about a compromise between Romney and a more liberal legislature.

But on the campaign trail, Romney has distanced himself from his health reform success to woo votes from conservatives who despise the insurance mandate. He has couched some of that distancing in a distinction between reforms at the state level and the national level, but has also indulged some duplicity on that subject.

Back in 2008, for example, he extolled the idea of mandating insurance coverage. "No more free riders," he said during a debate in that year's Republican primary contest. "Pay your own way, but no more free ride. That was what the mandate did."

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