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Former Governor Mitt Romney is campaigning at a health care forum in Saint Petersburg, Florida, this morning. On the presidential campaign trail, Romney has played down his role in pushing through the nation's first law that requires people to get health care coverage.
Now, he's beginning to tout his accomplishment, and says he'd like to see similar coverage across the country. The change comes as Romney's main rival in the New Hampshire presidential primary, Rudy Giuliani, is beginning to spend more time there.
WBUR's Fred Thys has been following Romney in New Hampshire, and has this report.
TEXT OF STORY:
FRED THYS: Romney is talking to a crowd at a recreation center in Keene. He's asked why he wants to run for president, and he uses the opportunity to talk about health care.
MITT ROMNEY: And I want to go to Washington and get better schools and health care for all of our citizens.
THYS: Someone in the crowd asks Romney how he thinks he's going to be able to work with a Democratic Congress, and he talks about his experience passing the health care law on Beacon Hill. He looks ahead to the general election.
ROMNEY: And then there are times when you can find common ground, where good Republicans and good Democrats can say: "There's a place where we can work together," and that happens a lot more in states than it happens in Washington. We've gotta bring some of that state attitude to Washington again. We did that in our state by getting everybody health insurance. The plan we came out with isn't perfect, but it's getting everybody in our state insured. It doesn't require new taxes or a government takeover. It's not Hillarycare. We're not goin' there, but I'm pretty proud of what we did, Republicans and Democrats working together.
THYS: Romney is in a comfortable position in New Hampshire. The latest University of New Hampshire poll, released this month, shows him with a 12-point lead over Rudy Giuliani. Among likely voters in the Republican primary, health care is way down the list, behind Iraq, the economy, illegal immigration and taxes, but among likely voters in the Democratic primary, the poll finds health care is the most important issue. Romney is now trying to show that he can beat the Democrats at their game. Jennifer Donahue, of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics, says Giuliani, whom she followed yesterday, is emphasizing 9/11. Meanwhile Romney is trying to show that he can debate the Democrats across a broader spectrum of issues.
JENNIFER DONAHUE: I think right now what you're seeing is Romney and Giuliani in a very tough fight, not so much a tough fight in New Hampshire, where Romney is doing better, but nationally, and in terms of image, who can beat Hillary Clinton? I think that's the question that people are looking at and weighing these two candidates through.
THYS: In Keene, another person in the crowd asks Romney whether he or Rudy Giuliani would be the best candidate to beat Clinton in the fall of next year. Romney says that in the general election, the value to Republicans of having Giuliani as their candidate in big states such as New York, is dubious because, Romney believes, New York is likely to go to the Democrats anyway. Romney argues that come November 2008, he's the more likely candidate to win what he calls the purple states, such as New Hampshire, Michigan, and Ohio. Once again he brings up health care to make that argument.
ROMNEY: So I look forward to debating Hillary Clinton. I can't wait to talk about health care, for instance. I think I'm the only Republican out there with a plan that gets everybody insured. My plan says upon passage of my plan, in four years, we'll have all the citizens of this country insured without having to spend 110 billion dollars which is in Hillary's plan. I could talk face to face with Hillary Clinton on our different approaches for getting people insured.
THYS: Throughout this campaign, Romney has made it clear that he would not impose the Massachusetts model on other states, and in an interview with WBUR after the Keene event, he maintains that position. But it's clear these days that he wants to try to get all Americans insured.
ROMNEY: I would like to see every other state in America take action to get all of their citizens insured, and would use federal incentives to encourage that type of reform state by state. I would not impose on every state the exact answer we had in Massachusetts, because the states are different, but I would use the resources of the federal government to encourage and incentivize reforms to get all of our citizens insured.
THYS: Romney would allow states to use federal Medicaid dollars to buy insurance for people instead of reimbursing hospitals for free care. We were unable to get any more details from him or his staff. But the tone of the campaign is now a very different one from when Romney was playing down Massachusetts' health care law and his own role in getting it passed.
This program aired on November 27, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.
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