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Four years is a long time in politics. Just ask Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor first announced a run for president in 2007. Yesterday, Romney had a chance at a do-over, formally declaring, again, that he will seek the Republican nomination. Everyone knew it was coming. But it's a chance for Romney to redefine what he stands for, as NPR's Robert Smith reports.
ROBERT SMITH: Romney 2, the sequel, got its world premiere on a hilltop farm in Stratham, New Hampshire.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican Presidential Candidate): I'm Mitt Romney. I believe in America and I'm running for president of the United States.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SMITH: And some things about Romney seem exactly the same. Even on a blustery day, his jet black hair still falls perfectly back into shape. His loafers don't have a mark on them, even after walking around and shaking hands in a barnyard.
Mr. ROMNEY: Isn't this fabulous? Wow, what a scene this is. Doesn't get better than this, does it? Hi, how are you?
SMITH: And his whole I believe in America line was also the theme of his last campaign. Here he is announcing his candidacy in 2007.
Mr. ROMNEY: I believe that the American people are the source of our strength. They always have been. They always will be.
SMITH: But if you compare the way he started both campaigns, yesterday and four years ago, you'll see that most everything else about Mitt Romney has changed. The movie star's back, but the plot is completely different.
Back in 2007, Mitt Romney wasn't as well known, and he saw a chance to retell his life story. He went to a place where the Romney name meant something magical. He declared for president the first time in Dearborn, Michigan, the state his father had run as governor. And Romney portrayed his family's life as a kind of rags to riches story.
Mr. ROMNEY: He came from very humble roots - never graduated from college but he made his dreams come true like many, many other Americans.
SMITH: At the 2007 announcement, Romney surrounded himself with props - old cars from the Henry Ford Museum. Romney barely mentioned his time as the governor of a liberal state. He completely skipped over his work as a management consultant and venture capitalist. He didn't even reference his wealth or talk about the economy. No, 2007 Romney was trying to be the values candidate.
Mr. ROMNEY: I believe in God and I believe that the family is the foundation of America and that it needs to be protected and strengthened. I believe in the sanctity of human life.
SMITH: It made sense at the time. When Romney was running the first time, there were plenty of other moderates in the race - John McCain, Rudy Giuliani. Romney wanted to be different, to be the true conservative. The problem was, nobody bought it. And he lost the nomination to John McCain. And so flash forward to yesterday afternoon, four years later, on a farm in the state holding the first primary.
Mr. ROMNEY: And this really is what New Hampshire's all about, isn't it - a day like this and a farm like this.
SMITH: This time the props were different - hay bales instead of cars. Romney ditched the coat and tie. But most importantly, Romney had a new story to tell about Mitt Romney, job creator.
Mr. ROMNEY: Like many of you, it had been a dream of mine to try and build a business from the ground up. We started in a little office a couple of hours from here. And over the years we were able to grow from our first 10 employees to - to hundreds.
SMITH: Romney didn't bring up his faith. He never mentioned abortion. Romney's new campaign focused on just one thing: the economy.
Mr. ROMNEY: You know, if you want to create jobs, it helps to have actually had a job. And I have.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SMITH: What Romney is hoping for now is that finally his life story and his political ideas will mesh together. Obviously voters care more about the economy now than they did when he was running the first time. But Romney also seems more comfortable in this role. He's the steady pragmatic Republican now. And his strategy is to ignore the other Republican rivals and go right after President Obama.
Mr. ROMNEY: He says this: I'm just getting started.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Person: No!
Mr. ROMNEY: No, Mr. President, you've had your chance. We the people on this farm and citizens across the country are the ones who are just getting started.
(Soundbite of cheering)
SMITH: But it's not easy to stay above the fray. Sarah Palin was holding a competing event just a dozen miles away, and she was happily trashing Romney's health care law he passed in Massachusetts. Rudy Giuliani was also in New Hampshire yesterday taking shots at Romney.
Polls show Romney as the frontrunner, but with great polling comes great responsibility. The pressure is on for the sequel to outperform the original.
Robert Smith, NPR News, Manchester, New Hampshire. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.