ALTON, N.H. — Republican Mitt Romney said Tuesday he would likely donate his salary to charity if elected president, a financial freedom he described as a byproduct of a successful business career.
"I never anticipated that I'd be as financially successful as I was, and then my business went far better than I expected it would," Romney told a woman at a Liberty Mutual office in Dover, N.H., when she asked if millionaire candidates could resolve government problems in Washington.
"I wouldn't disqualify somebody by virtue of their financial wealth or their financial poverty," Romney added. "I would instead look at their record, what they've done with their life and whether they can make a difference, whether the things they have learned will enable them to be an effective leader."
A history of donation
A former venture capitalist who headed the 2002 Winter Olympics and served one term as Massachusetts governor from 2003 to 2007, Romney is the wealthiest of all the candidates, Democrats and Republicans. His assets are estimated at $190 million to $250 million.
Later, speaking with reporters, Romney said he would likely accept the presidential salary of $400,000 annually but donate the money. While governor, Romney declined his $135,000 annual salary.
"I haven't really thought ahead that far," Romney said initially. "There are some questions I haven't forecasted, perhaps because that would seem presumptuous of me."
Then, he added: "I presume I would take the salary and then I would donate at least that amount - or more - to charity."
Romney is expected to report more precise figures on his assets in the coming weeks when he files a financial disclosure report required of all presidential candidates. He sought an extension from a mid-May filing deadline but provided a broad estimate of his wealth.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney and his fellow Mormons are expected to donate 10 percent of their salaries to remain members in good standing of the church.
The Iraq factor
Later in the day, Romney visited Prospect Mountain High School in Alton, near Lake Winnipesaukee, where students peppered him with a series of questions about the Iraq War, gay marriage, stem cell research and his ability to work in a bipartisan fashion. Video: Russert on Romney's chances in 2008
One student asked Romney which of his rivals is the biggest threat to his candidacy.
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"Me," he said. "I don't want to mess up in some way and knock myself off the stage."
Moments later, he called Matt Lauer of NBC's "Today" show to the stage and Lauer, compiling a piece for the morning program, followed up on a student question by asking Romney if he would still support leaving U.S. troops in Iraq if the current level of violence extends into the fall.
"I don't want to forecast for anything other than success," Romney said as he stood before an enormous U.S. flag. "I recognize there are bad things that could happen, and we always have the options available to us then that we have today. ... But if there came a time when there's no reasonable probability of a success of that nature, then obviously I'd reconsider our alternatives."
Romney started his day on a sour note, when a restaurant patron declared he would not vote for him because of his faith.
"I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon," Al Michaud of Dover shouted at Romney when he approached him inside Harvey's Bakery in downtown Dover.
Romney kept smiling as he asked, "Can I shake your hand anyway?"
Michaud replied, "No."
Michaud later told reporters he was not "a right-winger," alluding to some evangelical Christians who have compared Romney's faith to a cult. Instead, Michaud said he was a liberal who planned to vote for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., should she win her party's nomination.
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