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Romney distances himself from Salt Lake City mayor

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has cooled his friendship with Mayor Rocky Anderson of Salt Lake City now that the liberal Democrat has called for President Bush's impeachment.

In an interview yesterday, Romney sought to minimize his relationship with Anderson, once a prominent example of bipartisan camaraderie. The two worked closely together when Romney ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"He was a mayor that worked well with me during the Olympics, and I supported his work as a mayor," said Romney, who spoke before an event in western Iowa, a Republican stronghold. "I do not endorse or support his views on President Bush or almost any other issue particularly that's unrelated to being a mayor."

Anderson was so impressed with Romney's work on turning around the problem-plagued Olympics that he backed the Republican in a television commercial during Romney's 2002 campaign for Massachusetts governor.

"People often say I'm a Massachusetts-type Democrat. To me, that's a compliment," Anderson said in the ad . Anderson then urged viewers to "take it from this liberal Democrat: If you want an amazing leader, vote for Mitt Romney."

In 2003, after he became governor, Romney returned the favor, making a television ad in support of Anderson's campaign for a second mayoral term.

Romney now says that his backing of Anderson was limited to his dealings with him in organizing the Olympics and that he never endorsed Anderson's social views.

"Mayor Anderson became a fan of Governor Romney's executive leadership abilities, and Governor Romney appreciated the mayor's support in making the Games a success," Eric Fehrnstrom, a spokesman for Romney's presidential campaign, said yesterday. "But Governor Romney strongly disagrees with Mayor Anderson's opinions on President Bush. Mayor Anderson's opinions and beliefs are his own and are not shared by Governor Romney."

But in 2003, Fehrnstrom, also acting as Romney's spokesman, told The Boston Globe: "Sometimes personal friendships transcend politics. That is certainly the case with Mitt Romney and Rocky Anderson."

Rival presidential campaigns have alerted reporters to accounts of Romney endorsing Anderson, noting that Anderson supports abortion rights and gay rights and that he has called for Bush's impeachment.

Critics have accused Romney of shifting his position on abortion, gun control, and gay rights to suit a conservative national GOP electorate now that he's no longer governor of a liberal-leaning state.

In the interview, Romney also took exception to rival John McCain's record on campaign finance and immigration policy, suggesting the Arizona senator's views have shifted as the 2008 presidential campaign has evolved.