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updated 12/21/2007 11:29:17 PM ET 2007-12-22T04:29:17
News analysis

There was the period last spring when Mitt Romney claimed while campaigning in Iowa and New Hampshire that he had been a hunter “pretty much all my life,” only to have to admit later he had seriously hunted on only two occasions.

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Then there was the endorsement Mr. Romney claimed on NBC’s “Meet the Press” last Sunday that he received from the National Rifle Association while running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, when it turned out the group had never endorsed him.

Mr. Romney’s latest concession is that he only “figuratively” saw his late father, George, march with Martin Luther King Jr., something he claimed in his highly publicized speech about his Mormon faith earlier this month. Some publications have raised doubts that the event ever happened at all.

Mr. Romney once said about misstatements by his Republican rival, Rudolph W. Giuliani, “facts are stubborn things.” But does he have his own problem with blurring the truth?

Some of the instances when Mr. Romney has tripped up on his facts show that he is prone to exaggeration, taking what is essentially a kernel of truth and stretching it to bolster his case.

On Thursday, for instance, at a campaign stop in Indianola, he ran into trouble when talking about his record on illegal drugs while governor of Massachusetts. Mr. Romney had been airing ads in Iowa attacking his rival, Mike Huckabee, for his record on clemencies while governor of Arkansas and for reducing penalties for methamphetamine-related crimes.

“I’m very proud of the fact that we, my state, when I was governor, we made it tougher for people with meth labs,” he said, echoing his commercial in which he claimed that he “got tough on drugs like meth” in the governor’s office.

“We cracked down on crime and on meth in particular,” Mr. Romney added. “It’s a very important topic. I want to make sure we do everything we can to keep our kids off of this terrible, pernicious, captivating drug.”

But both the ad and Mr. Romney’s claims on his record were misleading. Mr. Romney’s office proposed legislation that would have toughened penalties on those in possession of the drug and chemicals to manufacture it, but the bill stalled in the state legislature.

After The New York Times pointed out Mr. Romney’s misstatement in a posting on its politics blog, he made sure to correct himself before taking questions from reporters at his next campaign stop here.

“If I said this morning that we ‘got tough’ on methamphetamines, I proposed we get tough on methamphetamine and I’ve corrected that right here for all of you,” he said. “You don’t need to make any error of reporting that somehow Governor Romney actually got it done.”

His claim of being a lifelong hunter was similar. When asked at town hall forums about his stance on guns, Mr. Romney portrayed himself as a sportsman, a “hunter pretty much all my life,” who strongly supported the right to bear arms.

He even trotted out some stories, recalling how he went hunting with his cousins as a teenager but struggled to kill rabbits with a single-shot .22-caliber rifle. When they loaned him a semi-automatic, it became easier, he said, drawing laughs from an appreciative crowd in Keene, N.H. The last time he went hunting, he said, was last year, when he shot quail in Georgia and “knocked down quite a few birds.”

“So I’ve been pretty much hunting all my life,” he said again.

After the notion was challenged by The Associated Press, Mr. Romney’s campaign initially conceded that those were the only two instances he had really been hunting in his life, but later rushed to add that he had also gone pistol shooting for “varmints” at his vacation home in Utah, although he did not have a hunting license or own a gun.

On the National Rifle Association endorsement, Mr. Romney argued the group phone banked for him, but he conceded it did not formally endorse him.

“Frankly, I didn’t realize the N.R.A. had an official endorsement program that was different than their phone banking for me,” Mr. Romney said on Thursday to reporters here. “The fact that they phone banked and encouraged their members to vote for me, I thought qualified for saying they had endorsed me.”

With the questions now being raised by various publications about whether Mr. Romney’s late father, George, a former governor of Michigan, ever marched with King, no one is disputing that George Romney was active in the civil rights movement. What is being challenged is the precision of Mr. Romney’s statement.

Indeed, with many of these instances, there has often been at least an element of his truth in his claims. But for a candidate who has featured his business background and made much of his propensity for careful analysis of data, he is not always precise. Asked about it on Thursday, Mr. Romney said he would correct whatever might be wrong.

“There’s going to be hyperscrutiny of each word,” Mr. Romney said. “That’s part of running for president. I’m up to it. You can look at the things I’m saying about my record and about the events of campaign and history and you’ll find if now and then I miss a word or I get something slightly off, I’ll correct it, acknowledge where it’s wrong. But the overall thrust, the overall meaning of the story, is very accurate.” That, too, however, has not been so in every case.

Copyright © 2013 The New York Times

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