DEARBORN, Mich. — Republican Mitt Romney formally entered the presidential race Tuesday morning, telling a crowd in Michigan that his experience in taking on impossible challenges, his belief in God, freedom and the American people make him the best choice to take over the White House in 2008.
"Innovation and transformation have been at the heart of America's success," Romney said at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn., Mich. "If there ever was a time when innovation and transformation were needed in government it is now."
The speech lasted under 20 minutes but hit on major campaign points of the war in Iraq, health care, education, marriage and family values.
"It is time to build a new American dream for all Americans," Romney said.
With Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy's presidential limousines and a roomful of historical cars on exhibit just a few feet from where Romney spoke, the combination of cars and politics not only brought Romney back to Michigan — he was born in Detroit — but honored his late father George.
George Romney grew up in Idaho and Utah, where he attended Latter-day Saints University High School in Salt Lake City and the University of Utah. He briefly ran for president in 1968 but dropped out of the race two weeks before the New Hampshire primary that year. He was the chairman of the American Motors Corp. from 1954 to 1962, before being elected Michigan's governor in 1963. He died in 1995.
"This place is not just about automobiles ... it is about innovation, innovation that transformed an industry, and gave Americans a way of life our grandparents could never have dreamed possible," Mitt Romney said, as he stood in front of a DC 3 airplane, a Ford Hybrid and a Rambler — the car his father helped popularize.
"The Rambler automobile he championed ... was the first American car designed and marketed for economy and mileage," Romney said. "He dubbed it a compact car, a car that would slay the gas-guzzling dinosaurs. It transformed the industry."
Transformation was the announcement's key word, with Romney relying on his Mr. Fix-it resume to illustrate his track record.
"Throughout my life, I have pursued innovation and transformation," Romney said. "It has taught me the vital lessons that come only from experience, from failures and successes, from the private, public and voluntary sectors, from small and large enterprise, from leading a state, from being in the arena, not just talking about it."
"Talk is easy, talk is cheap. It is doing that is hard. And it is only in doing that hope and dreams come to life," he said.
Romney referred to a family meeting in December, which took place in Utah — he and his wife, Ann, have a vacation home at Deer Valley — where they discussed if he should run and why. All his children said he should do it.
"They know Ann and mine hearts. They know our values," Romney said. "They know my experience innovating and transforming, in business, in the Olympics, and in Massachusetts. And they know we love this country."
Romney, 59, who ran the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City, is the fifth member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to run for president — a list that includes Romney's father.
"I believe in God and I believe that every person in this great country, and every person on this great planet, is a child of God," Romney said. "I believe we are all sisters and brothers."
The assembled crowd was led in prayer by a Lutheran minister before Romney took the stage.
Romney created an exploratory committee in January, which under Federal Election Commission rules allows a person considering running for president to "test the waters" from likely voters to see if there is any shot at winning. It also allows another made-for-media-moment for the candidate to move from the exploratory stage to becoming a candidate.
Tuesday's event, carried live on C-SPAN and news networks, had supporters clad in matching blue Michigan for Mitt T-shirts, Mitt Romney posters, a high school marching band and uniformed Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts who led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Romney is stretching his announcement moment as long as he can, making a speech in Iowa —home of the first presidential caucus in January 2008 — just hours after his speech in Michigan. He will hit South Carolina and host a town hall meeting New Hampshire on Wednesday before heading back to Boston for another event on Thursday.