Feb. 23, 2007 — -- 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 ABCNEWS.com. "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."
Bopp emphasizes that other prominent political leaders, such as Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr., supported abortion rights before converting to anti-abortion positions. "There are millions of people who are pro-life who had abortions -- we know that people can convert."
But a number of prominent conservative leaders such as Paul Weyrich, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, and Donald Wildmon are not yet convinced, and some openly doubt the sincerity of Romney's beliefs.
"The last message we want to send to prospective candidates in future elections is to say that you can spend your entire political career trashing the values of social conservatives and then win our support by claiming to have a deathbed conversion just before running for president," said Gary Glenn, a leader of the American Family Association.
"It is my opinion that social conservatives will not be fooled by another liberal Massachusetts flip-flopper who insistently promoted abortion on demand, gun control and the agenda for homosexual rights."
John MacMillan, Republican town committee chairman in Billerica, Mass., supported Romney when he first ran for office as the state's governor in 2003. But he said that he became quickly disillusioned.
"He's as phony as a three-dollar bill," said MacMillan. "When I started to look at his positions -- gun control, pro-gay -- I found out that he's just as bad as [Democratic Sen.Ted] Kennedy. I've been a Republican all my life, and leopards don't change their spots. He'll change his position, say anything, to get votes."
Political historians say that it's not uncommon for candidates to change their positions on the way to higher office -- with varying results.
George Bush Sr. supported the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion rights and described Ronald Reagan's economic policy as "voodoo economics" during the 1980 primary. By the time he became Reagan's vice president, he'd changed his mind on all those positions. Combined with the betrayal of his "read my lips" pledge on taxes, all those switches contributed to the perception that Bush waffled on the issues.
"It seemed that he didn't have a center," said Tim Naftali, the incoming director of the Nixon Library. "Doonesbury made fun of him by portraying him as just a voice, as if to say that he didn't have a core."
Naftali said that other leaders, from Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Reagan to Robert Kennedy, switched their positions on important issues. "The question is, when does the bait and switch happen?" he asked. "It happens when you run on one set of policies and then in office you do something else. If they're going to make the change, I prefer that they do it before they're in office."
Michael McGerr, a political historian at Indiana University, said that Romney's change of views on several important issues is fairly unusual in a political campaign.
"There is always some fudging and blurring on the positions and there are periods of time in which a good number of leading politicians within a party make an adjustment but not individual major contenders," he said. "That's not so common because politicos don't tend to get caught changing their stances on the issues."
Mitt Romney: On the Issues
1994: Believed abortion should be safe and legal
2002: Personally against abortion but pro-abortion rights as governor, endorsed legalization of RU-486 (morning-after pill)
2007: Firmly anti-abortion
Stem Cell Research
2002: Endorsed embryonic stem cell research
2005: Vetoed stem cell research bill
1994: Supported assault weapons ban and Brady bill, rebuffed the NRA
2002: Supported assault weapons ban and Massachusetts' tough laws on gun control
2006: Joined NRA as a life member and said that states should ease licensing requirements; claimed he was a gun owner but later admitted that he's didn't in fact own a firearm
1994: Opposed increase as an "anti-business" position but told David Brinkley in October that he supported tying an increase to rate of inflation
2002: Supported increase in line with inflation
2006: Vetoed minimum wage increase
1994: Opposed federal marriage amendment, vowed to help establish "full equality for America's gays and lesbians"
2002: Provided legal protection to same-sex couples in Massachusetts
2007: Supported federal marriage amendment, worked to block same-sex couples from adopting
Gays in the Military
1994: Supported "don't ask, don't tell," saying it was a step toward "gays and lesbians being able to serve openly and honestly in our nation's military"
2007: Didn't want to change "don't ask, don't tell" policy
Capital Gains Tax Cut
1994: Opposed capital gains tax cut
2002: Refused to sign "no new taxes" pledge
2007: Supported capital gains tax cut as part of his pledge to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent; signed "no new taxes" pledge