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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 February 2007, 18:03 GMT
Mitt Romney bids for history
By Jane O'Brien
BBC News, Dearborn, Michigan

Republican hopeful Mitt Romney launched his bid for the White House in the heartland of the auto industry that his father helped to revolutionise.

The Henry Ford Museum in the suburbs of Detroit, Michigan, was a symbolic backdrop for Mr Romney, who is casting himself as political innovator whose reputation as a fixer will transform the country.

Mitt Romney answers a press question in front of a sea of supporters
The son of a governor, Mr Romney comes from political stock
"Our government has become a weight on the American people, sapping their strength and slowing their climb," he said.

"We must transform our government - to become a government that is smaller and less bureaucratic, one with fewer regulations and more freedom for our people."

But his declaration was low-key and lacked the excitement that other candidates - notably Democratic Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama - are already generating.

Mormon question

He also enters a Republican field already dominated by "America's mayor" Rudolph Giuliani, who gained national hero status by leading New York in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks.

A woman? 88% say "Yes"
A black? 94% say "Yes"
A Mormon? 72% say "Yes"
Source: USA Today/Gallup poll, Feb 2007

But Mr Giuliani is seen as too liberal by many on the right - he is pro-choice and supported same-sex marriages.

Mr Romney has disavowed his previous pro-choice position and has never supported gay marriages - but his Mormon faith could be a big impediment to voters.

The religion is regarded as a cult by many socially-conservative evangelical Christians who form a large part of the Republican base.

One new poll suggests that Americans are more likely to vote for a woman (88% say they would) or a black nominee (94%) than a Mormon (72%).

Surrounded by his children and grandchildren, Mr Romney made many references to God and the importance of family values.

"How is the American family made stronger?" he asked supporters, answering his own question: "With marriage before children. With a mother and a father in the life of every child."

Powerful family

Many pundits believe that Mr Romney is seeking to establish a political dynasty along the same lines as the Kennedys.

His father, George, was governor of Michigan and a presidential candidate in 1968.

He's handsome, he's charismatic, he's a good speaker, he's genial - and he's also got money
John Keller,
CBS political analyst
Mitt Romney is the former governor of Massachusetts and in 2002 turned around the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, which was in danger of collapsing in a corruption scandal.

"We don't have a monarchy here in America, but we have become used to dynastic trends in politics," CBS political analyst John Keller said.

He has followed Mr Romney's career since 1994 when he stood against Ted Kennedy for the Senate in Massachusetts.

"He's handsome, he's charismatic, he's a good speaker, he's genial.

"He's all those good things and the camera loves him. That's critical for American politics today. And he's also got money," Mr Keller said.

But with almost two years to go before the presidential election, it is too early to tell whether Mr Romney will make any lasting impact on Republican voters.

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