Former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney came to Philadelphia yesterday to stoke his political marketability - while coping with a significant health-care liability.
Many in the Republican Party, known for its orderly presidential candidate queues, see Romney as a guy whose time will come in 2012.
But Romney is haunted by his 2005 push for universal health insurance in Massachusetts that resembles a GOP-loathed health-care reform bill signed into law last month by President Obama.
Romney, addressing about 600 people at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia, offered a 45-minute critique of Obama's presidency, calling his foreign policy "misguided" and complaining that Obama was seeking too much government control on domestic issues. He touched only briefly on health care.
"They talk about taking over health care, having the federal government run our health-care system, 18 percent of our economy," Romney said. "These kinds of fears are smothering to the spirit that made America America."
Romney quickly moved on, but the issue came up again when an audience member asked about the similarities between the Massachusetts law and the new national legislation.
Romney said both systems require people to purchase health insurance as a way to cut costs for taxpayer-funded medical services provided to the uninsured at hospitals. But Romney said he had concerns about the cost and scope of a national plan.
"States should be able to solve their problems in the ways they feel best," Romney said. "That's the way it's laid out in the Constitution."
The health-care issue makes Romney vulnerable to a political pincer movement - candidates who consider themselves more conservative question his credentials on the topic, while liberals gleefully point to how close a potential GOP front-runner is to Obama on health care.
Obama even tweaked Romney on the health-care similarities during a visit to Maine on Friday, a sure sign that Democrats are taking his potential presidential run very seriously.
Romney, who finished second in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, has visited that state recently to try to beat back comparisons between the Massachusetts health-care law and the legislation that Obama approved.
Romney is now stumping for his new book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness." Free copies were handed out as guests left yesterday's speech.
The Web site for Romney's political-action committee, Free & Strong America, streams video of his comments at the American Conservative Union annual meeting in February, when he came in second in a straw poll for the GOP presidential nomination, behind U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, of Texas.
Romney is using his PAC to donate "prescription for repeal" contributions to candidates who will try to overturn the national health-care bill. Before yesterday's trip, he made donations to the U.S. Senate campaign of former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey and the congressional campaigns of former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan in Delaware County and businessman Tim Burns, of Washington County, in western Pennsylvania.