Romney's Changing Views: Candid or Convenient?

One candidate believes abortion should be legal, endorses embryonic stem cell research, supports a minimum wage increase, believes gays and lesbians deserve full equality and should be allowed to serve openly and honestly in the military, and opposes capital gains tax cuts.

The other candidate is firmly against abortion, opposes stem cell research, vetoed a minimum wage increase as governor of his state, vehemently opposes gay marriage and wants to maintain the "don't ask, don't tell" policy, and supports capital gains tax cuts.

It's the old Mitt Romney versus the new Mitt Romney.

The first description applies to Romney's positions in 1994 and 2002, when he was running for office in liberal Massachusetts. The second applies to Romney's current positions as he campaigns to become the Republican presidential candidate.

The candidate's positions have changed substantially on several issues -- including abortion and gay rights -- that are vital to social conservatives whose support is essential to winning the Republican primaries.

Romney said that his transformation is a natural one, indicating the development of his beliefs over a 13-year period. In a well-publicized story, the former Massachusetts governor said he became ardently anti-abortion after an apocryphal 2003 meeting with Harvard scientists, who informed him that stem cell embryos are destroyed after 14 weeks.

And he refuses to believe that voters will hold his changing views against him. "I don't think people are going to select their candidate based on a scorecard" of positions on the issues, he recently told the Des Moines Register. "I think instead they look at the individual."

Largely due to his anti-abortion stance, Romney has positioned himself as the true conservative in the Republican field when compared with Rudolph Giuliani, who's liberal on social issues, and John McCain, whose maverick reputation and previous support for expanded stem cell research has alienated some members of his party.

It appears that Romney has made significant inroads among the social conservative flank of the party.

After months of wooing -- he hosted evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham, Gary Bauer and Richard Lee at a casual gathering at his Boston home last October -- he has picked up some key support, according to the Romney campaign. Prominent conservative legislators such as Senators Jim DeMint. R-S.C.; Larry Craig, R-Idaho; Bob Bennett, R-Utah; and evangelicals such as Mark DeMoss, Jay Sekulow and Jim Bopp Jr. have endorsed him.

When the Christian Broadcast Network's correspondent David Brody recently asked his anti-abortion readers to pick between McCain and Romney, 90 percent of the respondents chose Romney. "What is apparent is that those who are for Romney on the life issue, love this guy with a passion," wrote Brody.

Bopp, a leader in the anti-abortion community who now acts , was cautious about Romney's conversion. But after taking the time to study the candidate, he became convinced and endorsed him.

"He's certainly explained to my satisfaction that he's sincere," Bopp told "I looked to his conduct in office and at every turn. Where he could advance the pro-life cause, he did ? and he took tremendous hits on that and paid the political price for vetoing that [stem cell research] bill. He's walked through burning embers."

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