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Mitt Romney on the presidential race, Iraq/Iran, education

Monday, January 15, 2007
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HH: Joined now by former Massachusetts governor and possible presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. Governor Romney, welcome back. Happy New Year to you.

MR: Thank you, Hugh. Happy New Year to you as well.

HH: Thank you. It’s Martin Luther King Day, the national holiday we honor the great civil rights leader. And I thought I’d ask you, because you’re seeking the presidency, or exploring it, your dad was a great champion of civil rights in Michigan, but a lot of people have written off the potential for the Republican Party to get much above 10% among black Americans. Are you in that camp?

MR: You know, near term, I think it’s very difficult for us to regain substantial support among the African-American community. Longer term, I think we’re in a much better position, and the reason I say that is, that at least in my view, the civil rights issue of our time is the failure of inner-city schools to prepare kids for the jobs of tomorrow. And that really puts African-American families at odds with the teachers’ union. And the teachers’ union, of course, dominates the Democratic Party in some ways, and I think it’s going to create a schism which the Republican Party can take advantage of, and show African-American families that we are committed to improving the schools for their kids, and the Democratic Party can’t do that. So I’m hopeful we’ll be able to make some real inroads over time.

HH: Now you grew up in a racially divisive…divided Detroit. You’ve governed Boston, one of the historically divided cities, though not so much in recent years. What’s happened in the inner city, especially among the community of African-Americans attending Church regularly, that dispose them to coming over to our side on social issues? Anything?

MR: Well, the big issue in our state, of course, was the decision by the supreme judicial court to say that marriage between people of the same gender is required under our Constitution. That would come as a surprise to John Adams, the person who wrote it. But that being said, the African-American Churches, by and large, oppose the idea of same sex marriage. And I’ve spoken with leaders of those Churches, pastors who feel that it’s critical in the African-American community, particularly in the inner cities, to have fathers and mothers get married, and to have kids raised in homes with a mom and a dad. And anything which detracts from the formation of a family with a mom and a dad, they oppose. So on that particular social issue, which really has emerged in this country, particularly given the ballot initiatives in the recent couple of elections, has emerged as a major social issue. I think this is one where the African-American community lines up more with Republican than with Democrats.

HH: Now Governor Romney, you launched the exploratory committee last week, and you had a one-day fundraise a week ago today. I believe the final total was over $7 million in cash and pledges. Has that momentum continued? Have I got my numbers right?

MR: You’ve got your numbers just about right. We had a remarkable first day, and we’re not raising that every day, of course. That was the first fundraising event. We haven’t had one since, but we will have other events as time goes on. This was a new approach to fundraising, which is that we…instead of going around the country and having big parties, and asking people to write checks, which is of course very expensive and very time consuming, we instead had some of my key supporters come here from all over the country, they got on the phones, we had about 400 people who got on phones, and connected to internet, where they could see people’s names and addresses and so forth. They called friends, and asked them to make contributions, and people made contributions with credit cards right over the internet. And so we collected the majority of that money on the spot, and at the same time, did it in a very cost effective way. It was a new advance in fundraising in the political world.

HH: Since then, at www.mittromney.com, you’ve got an online contribution effort. How’s traffic been to your website, which is pretty far advanced over others of that sort? And are people contributing in small numbers, in small donations over the internet?

MR: The answer is that there has been good traffic to the website, and that people are contributing. The numbers continue to come in. It’s pretty easy when it’s named www.mittromney.com. It’s not hard to remember. And so, people are going there, we’re getting contributions, but of course, the numbers are by and large in the sort of $25 to $50 to $100 dollar range. And let me tell you, those dollars are critical. I mean, this is a time, and it’s true for everybody who’s thinking about running for office in ’08, this is a time when the campaigns are defined by their ability to raise money. And you’re trying to get an organization in the early primary states, you’re ultimately going to try and get ads on the air, money makes all the difference.

HH: Now Governor Romney, the critical issue of this campaign is probably going to be the war. You issued a statement last week after the President made his speech in support of the surge. Since that time, there’s been a lot of negative reaction. How have you gauged that reaction? Any changes in your support for the President’s plan?

MR: No, the President’s right on this. There’s no question this is going to be a very difficult course for our nation to follow. And this effort, surging our troops there, may not solve the problem. There’s no guarantee that this will work. But one thing I think is quite clear, and that is that this is the next right step, it is the right sequential step. There’s some who say oh, let’s just pull out. Well, before you make that step, with all the attendant risks and down sides for our national interest in taking that step, let’s see if we can’t do something which would shore up the country, allow it to achieve stability, and remain a country that could be relied upon on the world stage. This is the next right step for us, and of course, we’re looking for the Iraqi government to step up and take a far more aggressive stance. It’s possible that it won’t work. Of course that’s possible. But you don’t go to your last in sequence option first, you start off with one that’s the most promising. And if that doesn’t work, then you have to consider other options. But this is the right next step for us to take, and you know, a lot of people say well, why didn’t we take it earlier, and why were all the mistakes made. And you know, I had that same question.

HH: Yesterday on Face the Nation, a likely opponent of yours, Senator McCain, was asked about Iran. I want to play his response, and get your response about Iran in Iraq as well. Here is Bob Schieffer and John McCain:

BS: Secretary of State Rice told David Sanger of the New York Times on Friday that recent American raids on the Iranians in Iraq came after President Bush issued a specific order several months ago to undertake a broad military offensive against the Iranians in Iraq. Do you think that this signals that the President is opening a third front here?

JM: No, I do not, but I think it’s very, very important that if Iranians are in Iraq, paying people to be suicide bombers, to help the training and equipping of them, and it’s vital that we go after them, too. Everybody knows the Iranians are playing in Iraq, and they’re trying to drive us out of Iraq, so they can assert their age-old ambitions for influence in the Middle East. Everybody knows that. If there’s Iranians in Iraq who are doing bad things, go after them, and let’s get them.

HH: Governor Romney, do you agree with Senator McCain?

MR: Absolutely. There’s no question but that Iran has global ambitions, and sees themselves as being the leader of the jihad. Ahmadinejad has made that pretty clear through his comments, and their involvement in Iraq, not to mention in Lebanon, is well understood by people throughout the world, and we have to recognize that we have to respond. And of course, anybody who is in Iraq, and is attacking our soldiers, is going to be a target of our retribution. And I don’t mean attacking Iran, but I mean attacking, responding to their soldiers that are there. I’d also note that I agree that the President is not opening up a new front against Iran, and I’ve heard that there have been people who’ve said oh, I think he’s opening the door to go into Iran. That is not what we’re doing as a country. We are doing our very best to bring stability to Iraq. But of course, if there are other parties like Iran that are in Iraq, then individuals firing on us will receive return fire.

HH: Governor Mitt Romney, always a pleasure. www.mittromney.com, America, if you want to find out what the campaign is up to. We’ll talk to you early and often throughout 2007 and ’08.

End of interview.

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