Governor Mitt Romney, seeking to quash any questions about his political future, said yesterday that he will run for reelection in 2006.
Sounding feisty and girding for a campaign, Romney also threw down a challenge to potential Democratic rivals, saying that they should be prepared to face him. He accused them of spreading rumors that he will not run again to help their own fund-raising efforts.
''Plan on it," Romney said yesterday as he attended a ribbon-cutting event in the North End. ''I'm not making an official announcement until the time comes, but plan on me being there."
Earlier this week, Romney told a roundtable of State House reporters that he was ready for the Democrats' challenge. ''They say: 'Oh he's not going to run again. He's not going to run again,' " Romney said. ''Well, I've got some news for them: I am going to run again. So come on in, I'm happy to face them. And if they want to think about whether they're going to face an opponent named Romney in the fall, the answer is, yeah, that's what they should plan for."
But yesterday, Romney sidestepped one critical question: whether he would serve out the full four-year term if reelected. He is seen by pundits and GOP activists to be eyeing a 2008 presidential run.
''You know, I'm taking everything just as I've described it," Romney said at the North End event. ''I've got no additions, no subtractions."
Romney's comments mark a clear shift in the language he and his aides have used in the past few months when asked about the 2006 gubernatorial election. They have always conditioned the statements, saying that Romney intends to run and refusing to make a simple, unequivocal declaration. ''I do expect that I'll be running again as governor, but I think that's a separate topic," the governor said in November after taking himself out of the running for a post in President Bush's Cabinet.
Reaction from analysts and the political establishment on Romney's latest declaration was mixed yesterday. Some saw it as a sign that he has decided he must win reelection to be a viable presidential candidate. Others saw his statement as a move to shore up his influence on Beacon Hill, where his power could slip significantly if top lawmakers and colleagues thought he was not running again. By that reasoning, some analysts said, he could bow out of the race a year from now without serious political consequences.
''I think he is making sure he is not seen as a lame duck, which is probably the wise thing to do," said US Representative Michael E. Capuano, a Democrat from Somerville who is taking a serious look at running for governor. Capuano said that whatever Romney decides about the 2006 election has ''not an iota" of impact on his decision.
But Elizabeth Sherman, a senior research fellow at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, said that she is convinced that Romney is being truthful about his intention to run for reelection. She said Romney understands that he needs a viable position from which to launch a presidential candidacy.
''Mitt Romney has political ambition wired into his DNA," Sherman said, alluding to his father, former Michigan governor George Romney. ''He understands that timing and perseverance and managing the long view and understanding the game of politics are crucial. You will never have power unless you understand those nuances. The question is, how is he going to get there. The ideal launching pad is the governorship of Massachusetts."
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, a probable Democratic candidate for governor, said he was glad that Romney has made a decision. ''We will deal with that next year," he said, when asked about Romney's accusations that Democrats were floating rumors that he wasn't going to seek another term.
One question Romney would face in a reelection fight is whether he would serve all four years of a second term. It is an issue that could be significant in a state in which two of the last three governors, both Republicans, left office before their terms expired.
If Romney were to win and run for president, the January 2008 New Hampshire primary would take place little more than a year after he started his second term.
He would be hitting the campaign trail with a hostile, Democrat-dominated Legislature in his home state looking for every chance to undercut his candidacy.
Fueling the speculation about Romney's national ambitions is the effort by him and his political advisers to raise his national profile over the past year.
He campaigned for Bush, as part of a GOP effort to undermine US Senator John F. Kerry's presidential candidacy. He was given a prominent speaking role at the Republican convention, and he won election last month as vice chairman of the Republican Governors Association, putting him in line to head the group during the 2006 campaign.