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Romney Explains 1992 Vote for Tsongas

During an appearance Sunday on ABC's "This Week", former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) faced questions on the evolution of his beliefs on controversial issues like abortion and gay rights. But the most interesting question -- and response -- came when host George Stephanopoulos asked Romney why he had voted for Democrat Paul Tsongas during the 1992 presidential primaries.

Mitt Romney
Mitt Romney speaks during a news conference Monday at the Siouxland Chamber of Commerce in Sioux City, Iowa. (AP Photo)

Romney said he was a registered independent at the time, which allowed him to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primaries. "When there was no real contest in the Republican primary, I'd vote in the Democrat primary, vote for the person who I thought would be the weakest opponent for Republicans," he said.

So, it was strategic voting, right? Not so fast. According to the Associated Press, Romney offered a different explanation to the Boston Globe in 1994 when he was running for Senate, saying then that he chose Tsongas over Bill Clinton because Tsongas hailed from Massachusetts and had put forward more compelling ideas.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden pointed out that in 1994, Romney said he was certain that Republicans would renominate President George H.W. Bush in the 1992 primaries, and Romney said he went on to vote for Bush in the general election.

"Voters are interested in ideas and issues affecting our country today and in the future, not the minutiae of voting scenarios from 15 years ago," Madden said.

The problem for the Massachusetts governor is that at some point the contrasts between Mitt Romney 1994/2002 and Mitt Romney 2008 might pile up to an unacceptable level for Republican primary voters. A voter might understand a real conversion by Romney on the abortion issue, but when put into the context of his new view on gay rights, his recent decision to become a member of the National Rifle Association and his explanation of his vote for Tsongas, it could well raise questions about just what he believes.

To date Romney has weathered the criticism over his changing views. In fact, he has convinced a number of social conservative leaders to sign on to his campaign. But if there are more "Tsongas" moments floating out there from Romney's past campaigns, it could complicate his efforts to cast himself as an earnest outsider and committed conservative.

By Chris Cillizza  |  February 19, 2007; 3:00 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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