Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass.
Morry Gash  /  AP
Presidential hopeful former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., has found being new to the national campaign scene can lead to some slip-ups.
updated 3/26/2007 2:33:15 PM ET 2007-03-26T18:33:15

As Mitt Romney transitions from one-term governor to presidential candidate, he has been ticking through a presidential checklist, sometimes with perilous results.

Where he lacked foreign policy experience, his staff arranged one-day visits to Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Check, check, check.

Where there were questions about Second Amendment issues, he enrolled as a "lifetime" member of the National Rifle Association.

Check again.

Knowing all the nuances
But this month, Romney scratched when he tried to wade through the cauldron of Cuban-American politics during a speech to South Florida Republicans.

"Hugo Chavez has tried to steal an inspiring phrase - 'Patria o muerte, venceremos.'" Romney said, referring to the Venezuelan president and persistent U.S. critic. "It does not belong to him. It belongs to a free Cuba."

In truth, the phrase does not belong to free Cubans. It has been the trademark speechmaking sign-off of their most despised opponent, Fidel Castro. And unlike Romney, Castro would switch to English to declare, "Fatherland or death, we shall overcome."

The mistake pointed up Romney's newness to the scene and the freshness of some of his positions.

"No human being can ever know every nuance to every issue. And the steeper the learning curve, the more likely you are to see inadvertent errors," said Dan Schnur, a Republican communications consultant in California. He worked for Pete Wilson's 1996 presidential campaign and Sen. John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign, but is not involved in the 2008 race.

"I've never seen one of these things take down a campaign, but it's critical for the candidate to show these type of things are an aberration, not a rule," Schnur said.

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Pluses and minuses
Unlike some of his better-known Democratic and Republican rivals, Romney, 60, lacks extensive national and international political experience. Romney has made a series of foreign and domestic policy pronouncements as he rushes to close gaps in his campaign's portfolio.

On the plus side, Romney's mostly nonpolitical background - primarily as a venture capitalist, as well as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics - means he does not have a long history on many contentious issues. That gives him great leeway as he adopts his policy positions.

At the same time, it puts him at a disadvantage with more experienced rivals, for whom many contemporary issues are second nature.

That lack of depth and familiarity increases the chance of missteps, as well as outright contradictions with past policy views.

In Romney's case, critics have lambasted him for reversals on abortion rights, gay rights and tax policy.

His Chavez comment to a March 9 Lincoln Day dinner in Miami-Dade County, as well as his mispronunciation of the names of several prominent Cuban-Americans, set off a murmur within the crowd.

Kevin Madden, Romney's spokesman, said the speech was overwhelmingly well-received despite any mistakes.

"I think what's new is there is a higher level of scrutiny now because he's a presidential candidate," Madden said. "But as far as the governor's ideas, the substance of his proposals and his blueprint for America, this is the first time everybody is hearing it, and we are confident that the substance of his policies is what's going to bring more and more people to his campaign."

Not alone in campaign mistakes
Recent campaigns are littered with examples of similar gaffes.

In 2004, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic presidential nominee, found himself backpedaling after he stopped in Wisconsin and declared his affection for "Lambert" Field. The proper name for the home of the state's beloved Green Bay Packers is "Lambeau" Field.

McCain took an unusual step as he proceeded through his own position checklist amid the 2000 GOP primary campaign.

After repeatedly flubbing when asked whether it was appropriate for South Carolina to fly the Confederate flag over its Capitol, McCain pulled out a statement written by his staff and read it aloud.

For the record, McCain declared that he saw the flag as a symbol of Southern heritage, not slavery. Yet after he lost the nomination to then Texas Gov. George W. Bush, McCain flew back to South Carolina and apologized.

The senator who prided himself on "straight talk" said he personally opposed the flag, but had offered a purely political answer during the campaign.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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