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Romney could back Paul, objects to Gingrich debate

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Drawing a sharp contrast between himself and GOP presidential rival Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney said Wednesday he would back any Republican candidate challenging President Barack Obama — including Texas Rep. Ron Paul.

It was a line Mr. Romney has used often in debates and on the campaign trail, but it stood out in an interview with CNN Wednesday after Mr. Gingrich said a day earlier that he wouldn't vote for Mr. Paul if the outspoken libertarian managed to capture the GOP nomination.

Asked directly if he could support Mr. Paul, Mr. Romney said he was focused on winning himself. But the former Massachusetts governor said the Texas congressman would be a better president than Mr. Obama.

He said he thought Mr. Paul would change some of his views, particularly when it comes to foreign policy and Iran, if he became the nominee.

"I don't agree with a lot of things Ron Paul says," Mr. Romney said. "And I would vehemently oppose many of his initiatives and I believe we'd be able to move him in a direction that's more productive."

At an event in Mason City, Iowa, on Wednesday, Mr. Gingrich was asked how he could square his refusal to back Mr. Paul as the nominee with his pledge to wage a positive campaign.

"Aren't you trying to have it both ways?" one reporter asked.

"Well, the question is a very direct question," Mr. Gingrich said. "Do you feel comfortable, in terms of my two grandchildren and everybody in this city, with somebody who believes that an Iranian nuclear weapon's irrelevant?"

"We're not running any ads attacking anybody, which is what I've said all along. But I was asked a direct question," Mr. Gingrich said. "I'm very uncomfortable with the idea that the commander in chief would think that it was irrelevant to have an Iranian nuclear weapon, because I regard an Iranian nuclear weapon as very dangerous."

Mr. Romney said he was unsure why Mr. Gingrich was objecting so strongly to negative ads Mr. Romney or the super-PAC affiliated with him have been running in recent weeks.

"I don't know why he's so angry," Mr. Romney said, noting that negative ads highlighting the contrasts among candidates have been a part of the American political system going back the Founding Fathers.

"I of course could get up and say I decry all of the negative ads and so forth, but I don't," Mr. Romney said. "I think it is part of the process. We could all wish for utopian-type process, but the process we have now is the way it's been for a long time."

Responding to a direct challenge from Mr. Gingrich to participate in a one-on-one debate, Mr. Romney said he had already debated the former House speaker plenty.

"As for a one-on-one with Newt Gingrich — if he and I end up being the two finalists we'll have that opportunity," Mr. Romney said. "But now, I don't know, we've debated maybe 10 times. We'll do more debates in January. But until he and I really are the two finalists ... there really are people who still deserve to be on the stage."

Early in the CNN interview, Mr. Romney's wife, Ann, spoke at length about the couple's 42-year marriage and her experience living with multiple sclerosis.

She credited her husband with getting her through the darkest moments of her life, the MS diagnosis in 1998, as well as some tough times she had raising five very "rambunctious" and, at times, "very naughty" boys.

Mrs. Romney also confirmed reports that she was the one who had to talk him into running for president for a second time and stood by her decision to devote a recent television ad to their marriage and fidelity.

The ad, she said, wasn't a politically motivated attack on Mr. Gingrich, who has been married three times.

"Whenever I speak about our life experience, it is ours," Mrs. Romney said. "It's our story, it's not anybody else's story. For me to talk about my life, and how I feel about my husband is my story. It is never intended to be seen in a lens other than our story."

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