DEARBORN – Standing in front of symbols of a 1954 American Motors Rambler and a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, symbols of Michigan’s past and present, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announced his candidacy for president yesterday at the Henry Ford Museum.

Sarah Royce
Flanked by his wife Ann and two grandchildren, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to the crowd at his presidential announcement at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn yesterday. (DEREK BLUMKE/Daily)

Romney likened Henry Ford’s influence on the auto industry to his own potential to revitalize America.

“This place is about innovation – innovation and transformation – which have been at the heart of America’s success,” Romney said. “If there ever was a time when innovation and transformation were needed in government, it is now.”

To win the Republican nomination, Romney will have to overcome the public’s familiarity with bigger names like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. McCain and Giuliani have both taken the initial steps toward a White House run in 2008. Romney will face the challenge of being from one of the nation’s most liberal states, though he has distanced himself from Massachusetts since announcing he wouldn’t seek a second term as governor.

In an e-mail to Michigan Republicans last month, Romney’s brother Scott, a trustee at Michigan State University, quoted Romney calling Michigan his home.

Mitt Romney emphasized his Michigan roots in his speech.

“I always imagined that I would come back to Michigan someday,” he said.

Romney’s first run for elected office came in 1994, when he failed to unseat Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. After running the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002, Romney returned to Massachusetts and ran for governor.

LSA senior Rob Scott, the chair of the University’s chapter of the College Republicans and a Romney supporter, said Romney chose a fitting location to announce his bid for presidency.

“Coming to Detroit with all the problems the auto industry is having right now is a good way for Romney to show his strength on the domestic front,” Scott said.

Scott said the College Republicans as a group don’t back any one candidate in the primary and that his support for Romney is personal.

Romney, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills and attended the prestigious Cranbrook Kingswood School there, sought to distinguish himself from the other potential candidates by emphasizing his distance from Washington politics.

“I do not believe Washington can be transformed from within by a lifelong politician,” Romney said. “There have been too many deals, too many favors, too many entanglements – and too little real-world experience managing, guiding, leading.”

Romney is a former venture capitalist who founded the Boston-based Bain Capital, where he helped start the office-supply giant Staples.

His father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, mounted his own bid for president in 1968, but he lost most of his support after attributing his initial support for the Vietnam War to “brainwashing.”

The elder Romney headed American Motors before being elected governor in 1962. Mitt Romney’s mother, Lenore, ran for the Senate in 1970, but lost.

When Romney hit on traditional conservative messages of reduced taxes and smaller government programs, the audience responded with shouts and their loudest applause of the morning.

Romney said the United States should continue to seek stability in Iraq as long as there is a reasonable chance of success.

“Our desire to bring our troops home, safely and soon, is met with our recognition that if Iraq descends into an all-out civil war, millions could die,” Romney said.

Romney also tried to burnish his credentials as a social conservative by speaking of the importance of family life and values in America.

He kept his own family at the forefront of his entire speech. His wife Ann introduced him, citing their beginning together as high school sweethearts and their subsequent 37-year marriage.

At the end of his speech, Romney invited his five sons, their wives and his 10 grandchildren onto the stage with him.

He chatted with the 21 family members, held a few of his grandchildren and waved to the audience as the Rascal Flatts cover of “Life is a Highway” blasted in the background.

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