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Romney rules out Bush Cabinet post

Cites 2002 pledge to Bay State voters

Governor Mitt Romney took his name out of consideration for a Cabinet position in Washington yesterday, telling White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr. that he had pledged to Massachusetts voters to serve a full four-year term as governor.

Romney delivered his message during a late-morning meeting at the White House after his name had surfaced in Massachusetts and in Washington as a potential candidate for one of several Cabinet posts. Romney said he told Card that he felt strongly that he is obligated to keep his 2002 campaign pledge to serve all of his four-year term.

''If there's ever consideration of an appointment in a Bush administration for me, they should recognize immediately that I could not accept any possible appointment because of my commitment," Romney told reporters after he left Card's office.

''It's entirely related to keeping my word," said Romney, who was in Washington to argue for saving Massachusetts military facilities from the next round of base closures.

Separately, Romney told an Associated Press reporter that a 2008 presidential run is ''too remote in time and probability to be talking about." The governor would not firmly commit, however, to running for reelection in 2006.

Together, the statements amounted to an attempt to eliminate potentially damaging speculation about his future and about whether he wants to stay in Massachusetts. After stumbling badly in his bid to add GOP seats in the Legislature this fall, Romney faces the critical task of rebuilding his political standing at home and dealing with hostility from legislative Democrats.

Romney staff members notified reporters that the governor would be delivering the news to Card on a trip to Washington yesterday. Later, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's communications director, took pains to point out that Romney is focusing on building an agenda for the coming year that includes a healthcare initiative, expanded education reform, and a budget plan to close a nearly $1 billion deficit.

Romney, whose trips around the country have fueled speculation he wants to run for president in 2008, acknowledged that the White House had not approached him about an appointment. ''There's been nothing offered, and they probably have the good sense not to offer anything, but in case there's any confusion, I make it very clear: I'm in for all of my term," he said.

Some Republicans had suggested that Romney would be a good fit as secretary of homeland security because of his experience running the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. However, Asa Hutchinson, undersecretary of homeland security, has emerged as a strong candidate to replace Secretary Tom Ridge.

Romney's move to take himself out of consideration for a Cabinet post prompted Democrats in Massachusetts to tweak him. ''Thank God, the country is safe for another few years," said Philip W. Johnston, chairman of the state Democratic Party. ''Mitt Romney as head of homeland security is a rather frightening thought. He generally doesn't show up to work."

Romney's statement about a Cabinet position eliminates one option about his future, but he refused to firmly commit to running for a second term in 2006.

''I do expect that I'll be running again as governor, but I think that's a separate topic," the governor said.

Bush's victory last week clears the way for Romney to give serious consideration to launching a bid for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. If US Senator John F. Kerry had captured the White House, Romney would have faced the far more difficult task of waging a campaign against an incumbent president from his home state, most analysts agreed.

But with Bush reelected, and the path cleared for Romney and several other Republicans around the country to run, the governor's most difficult decision, according to those analysts, is whether he should seek reelection to a second term in 2006. A key consideration is running for president while serving as governor in a state where the Democrat-dominated Legislature could undercut his candidacy and pin him down at home.

Fehrnstrom said yesterday that the governor and his staff are not talking about a presidential campaign, but are focused on developing the policy initiatives and fiscal plans that Romney wants to push on Beacon Hill next year.

Fehrnstrom also declined to comment on whether Romney would make a pledge similar to one in 2002 that he would serve a full four-year term if he seeks reelection.

''We are getting away ahead of ourselves," Fehrnstrom said, when asked about the governor's making such a commitment. ''I think we will have plenty of time to talk about the campaign in the year it is waged."

Fehrnstrom said Romney does not feel he is under any pressure to announce his reelection. 

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