MELBOURNE, Fla. – Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who ran as a moderate in past campaigns in Massachusetts, on Monday rated himself as conservative as the late President Reagan.
In his 12th visit to Florida since January, the former Massachusetts governor was asked to grade himself as a conservative on a scale of one to 10 if Reagan were a 10.
"Probably a 10 as well," Romney said. "I'm trying to think in what places we would differ. As I've gotten older, Reagan keeps getting smarter and smarter."
He added that he is not a carbon copy of Reagan, but they have some core beliefs in common.
"I'm a believer in markets, I'm a believer in American freedom, I am optimistic about America's future," Romney said. "I share the same optimism that Ronald Reagan had. I wish I had his good looks."
Romney ran as a moderate in his failed 1994 bid to unseat Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., and in his winning gubernatorial campaign eight years later. In a 1994 debate with Kennedy, Romney defended a woman's right to abortion and sought to distance himself from Reagan.
"I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush; I'm not trying to return to Reagan-Bush. My positions don't talk about the things you suggest they talk about; this isn't a political issue," Romney said at the debate.
Romney has changed his position on abortion and now describes himself as "pro-life."
Florida has been among the top priorities for Romney for fundraising and campaigning. He has done more public campaigning in Florida since January than any other candidate, Republican or Democrat, and has raised about as much money as Florida GOP front-runner Rudy Giuliani.
Still, his poll numbers in the nation's fourth-largest state are still hovering below 10 percent — a potential problem because Florida's Jan. 29 primary is the first in a large state.
He predicted, though, that his numbers will rise as they have in Iowa, where he also was a little-known candidate.
"They've never heard of me in Iowa, but with enough stops and enough effort, I've moved up to the top there and that's what I intend to do right here in Florida," Romney told a group of about 250 people at an "Ask Mitt Anything" event at Daytona International Speedway.
In Florida, Romney has put together a political team that includes influential lobbyist Al Cardenas, a former state Republican Party chairman who was handpicked by former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Others close to Bush who helping Romney include former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings; former campaign manager and chief of staff Sally Bradshaw; fundraiser Ann Herberger and former press secretary Kristy Campbell.
Romney and Giuliani have both raised about $1.9 million in Florida, according to the latest campaign filings from July.