BOSTON — Republican Gov. Mitt Romney said Wednesday that he will not run for a second term next year, fueling speculation he will seek the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.
"My decision comes down to this: In this four-year term, we can accomplish what I set out to do. In fact, we've already accomplished a great deal," he said.
Reporters questioned him afterward about whether he would run for president, but Romney said that decision is "a lifetime away."
"(Sen.) John McCain said he thinks about being president every day in the shower," he said. "I guess I will turn to the words of 'Star Wars': It's in a galaxy far, far away."
Should he run for president, Romney will need to break through a pack of more prominent Republicans. Potential rivals include McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
There has also been an undercurrent of concern among Christian conservatives, particularly in the vital South, prompted by his membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"His religion is a significant problem because many evangelical Christians do not believe that Mormons are Christians," said Stuart Rothenberg, an independent political analyst in Washington. "To the extent that we have controversial religions in this country, LDS is one of them."
Romney's 2002 election in Massachusetts followed a long business career and came close on the heels of his success as president of the Salt Lake Olympic Organizing Committee from 1999-2002.
Romney, son of former Michigan Gov. George Romney, has spent less than three years in elective office, but in that time the state has closed a $3 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, schools have scored first in national math and science tests and Romney held out until the Legislature gave him a tough new drunken-driving law.
Romney's decision was not a complete surprise. He declared earlier this year that he was "testing the waters" for a White House run.
Serving just one term allows Romney, 58, to leave with his record intact and focus on the presidential race, analyst Rothenberg said.
"He doesn't want to run for re-election because he could possibly get beat," he said. "And he doesn't want to run for re-election because he could possibly win, and then have to turn around and start running for president immediately."
Romney said he sat down with his wife, Ann, to make a list of the things he still wanted to do as governor. "Frankly there was very little to do for a second term that I could realistically accomplish," he said.
Romney has spent considerable time traveling to early voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, and sprinkled campaign cash across the country from a so-called leadership PAC used by presidential aspirants.
Romney, who was elected governor by casting himself as a social moderate, has also distanced himself from the liberal political culture in Massachusetts. He vetoed a bill to expand emergency contraception — the veto was later overridden — and campaigned against a 2003 ruling by Massachusetts' highest court that made the state the first in the nation to allow same-sex couples to wed.
He has also been emphasizing socially conservative positions on issues like embryonic stem cell research and the death penalty — positions that seem more likely to appeal to the Christian conservatives who are influential voters in Republican presidential primaries.
On abortion, Romney has reframed his views. During an unsuccessful bid in 1994 for Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's seat, Romney said abortion should be "safe and legal." But last summer, he wrote an opinion article in The Boston Globe saying he did not believe that abortion should be legal.
And although he became governor with a reputation as a concerned environmentalist, Romney has, in recent months, moved to the right on such issues as drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
He also changed positions on a regional pact among nine Northeastern states to reduce greenhouse gases. Saying he supported cleaning up power plant emissions only if it did not hurt the economy, Romney demanded price controls and other changes that the other states could not accept.
During an October speech to a Washington think tank, Romney cast himself as "a red speck in a blue state."
Analysts said Romney's business background and telegenic qualities make him politically appealing, while his changes of position on issues like abortion and his LDS faith, are his vulnerabilities.
"If he can get past the evangelical and ideological problems, then he'll be a very formidable candidate," Rothenberg said.
Julian Zelizer, a history professor at Boston University, concurred.
"I think he has a very strong chance," Zelizer said. "He is a conservative from a blue state, and he offers Republicans territory they are not typically able to capture."
Contributing: Pam Belluck, New York Times News Service