Robert Novak

 Romney strategists would like Michigan's still-unscheduled presidential primary to come as early as possible in 2008 to give their man a boost. They support efforts by the state's party regulars to close the primary to non-Republicans, averting a repetition of McCain's 2000 Michigan primary win on the backs of Democratic and independent voters.

 But the Romney team opposes Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis' attempts to return to a caucus system, fearing that Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas could mobilize the same constituency that flocked to televangelist Pat Robertson in 1988.

 For old-timers, Romney was reminiscent of his father's assaults on Big Labor and Big Business. Warning that the United States is facing stiff competition from China and India, he urged "our labor unions to recognize that we're in this together" and should work to "preserve the employers in the very country where they earn their living." At the same time, he admonished corporate CEOs "to be less concerned about their own compensation."

 However, Mitt Romney lacks George Romney's bombast. Nor is he his liberal Republican father's son when it comes to ideology. In introducing Romney, pro-life stalwart Knollenberg noted that "this party is looking for a very conservative candidate." Romney responded with an agenda of tax reduction and slimmed-down spending and opposition to federally financed embryonic stem cell research and same-sex marriage. He wisecracked about the liberalism of Massachusetts, suggesting, "You need a passport" to enter Cambridge (home of Harvard).

 Behind the scenes, Republican politicians ask each other the same question that went unanswered when George Romney sought the 1968 nomination: Can a Mormon be elected president of the United States? Nobody talks about it, as Mitt Romney meticulously prepares the field for 2008, but that potential bias is his one great liability as a presidential candidate.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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