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Romney, Healey will be visible as Republicans go to New York

Governor Mitt Romney will travel to New Hampshire on Monday to join President Bush's preconvention national tour, campaigning for the president in a key state and launching a nationally high-profile political week for the governor and his lieutenant governor, Kerry Healey.

Romney and Healey will be featured prominently, along with a host of well-known moderate and independent Republicans, in the GOP's convention in New York City, as Bush political strategists seek to soften Bush's conservative image.

On the road, Romney will join a Bush entourage that will be traveling at points with several prominent independents or moderate figures, including former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, US Senator John McCain of Arizona, and US Senator Zell Miller, a Georgia Democrat who has thrown his support to Bush.

Meanwhile, the Bush campaign has given Romney and Healey, who holds the office once occupied by Democratic presidential nominee John F. Kerry, prime-time speaking slots to address the Republican Natonal convention on Wednesday night, a senior Massachusetts Republican official confirmed yesterday.

The two are scheduled to give their speeches at about 9:30, just before Vice President Dick Cheney delivers his address to the Republican delegates, top Republican sources confirmed yesterday. Healey is expected to appear first, followed by Romney.

The fact that Romney -- along with Healey, a little known figure in the national GOP constellation -- are being given prime-time exposure is a clear signal the White House wants to use the two Bay State Republican leaders to tweak Kerry.

The tour with Bush and the convention speech are new steps into the national limelight for Romney, increasing speculation in Massachusetts political circles that he is positioning himself for a run at national office, possibly the presidency in 2008.

In recent months, Romney has stepped up his attacks on Kerry, including in a speech to the National Press Club in Washington a month ago, when he attacked the Massachusetts senator using the Bush campaign game plan. He said Kerry is "too conflicted to be president of the United States" and gives "tortured explanations" of his positions.

Democrats have attacked Romney for stepping into the national fray, saying that his political activities, along with vacation time, are detracting from his duties as governor.

Philip W. Johnston, the state Democratic Party chairman, said Romney's move to play a prominent role in the Bush reelection campaign is puzzling, considering what is at stake for Massachusetts.

"It is unbelievable we have a governor who is doing everything he can to prevent a Massachusetts senator from entering the White House," Johnston said. "This is helpful to Romney's real objective which is to win the White House for himself, but it is not helpful to Massachusetts. No matter how one comes down in the Bush-Kerry race, it would be extremely helpful to have John Kerry as president."

Alex Dunn, Romney's political director, said the governor supports Bush for his leadership on issues of terror and the economy. He pointed out that Kerry has missed 87 percent of his votes in the Senate this year, including one, extending $75 million worth of unemployment benefits for the Bay State, that failed by one vote.

"If Phil Johnston really cared about Massachusetts, he would tell John Kerry to report to work," Dunn said.

As Massachusetts Republicans with moderate positions on most social issues, Romney and Healey also fit into the moderate tone that the Bush campaign wants to project for its convention. Romney wanted to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts, but has supported a civil union alternative. He says he would not approve restrictions on abortion rights and supports federal funding of stem cell research.

Other high-profile speakers include Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and Governor George Pataki of New York, both leading figures in the moderate wing of the national party.

Romney's role during the convention week was disclosed as the presidential campaign heats up over an assault on Kerry's Vietnam military record by a group of fellow swift boat veterans. When asked about Romney's position on the group's attack ads, aides said the governor was on vacation and not available for comment.

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