In this morning’s debate on NBC, Rick Santorum questioned Mitt Romney’s decision not to run for reelection when he was governor of Massachusetts. That year, 2006, was a terrible one for Republicans nationwide, including Santorum, who lost his Senate seat in Pennsylvania by 18 points.
“Well, if his record was so great as governor of Massachusetts why didn't he run for reelection?” Santorum asked. “I mean if you didn't want to even stand before the people of Massachusetts and run on your record--if it was that great, why did you bail out?”
Later in the day, as he left a rally at the Rochester Opera House, I asked Romney why he didn’t run for reelection in 2006 and if he had been concerned about winning reelection in a tough environment.
“I gave you the answer in the debate,” Romney said, before a staff member told me he wouldn’t be taking any more questions.
So what exactly did Romney say in the debate? Here was his response to Santorum’s question:
I think it's unusual, and perhaps understandable, that people who spend their life in politics imagine that if you get in politics that that's all you want to do. That if you've been elected to something, well, you want to get reelected and reelected. I went to Massachusetts to make it different. I didn't go there to begin a political career, running time and time again. I made a difference. I put in place the things I wanted to do. I listed out the accomplishments we wanted to pursue in our administration. There were 100 things we wanted to do. Those things I pursued aggressively. Some we won. Some we didn't. Run again? That would be about me. I was trying to help get the state in best shape as I possibly could. Left the world of politics, went back into business.
Had Romney accomplished the majority of the “100 things [he] wanted to do” in office, or enough of them to be satisfied? Had he decided, at that point, to run for president in 2008 and that the best way to do that would be outside the governor’s mansion in Boston? Or had Romney looked at the poll numbers, which were declining throughout the second half of his term (he was spending a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire around then), and concluded that he couldn’t win reelection against a popular Democrat? The answers are not clear.