DOVER, N.H. – Republican Mitt Romney, conceding that his business career helped him make more money than he expected, said Tuesday he would likely decline a salary as president and instead donate the money — and more — to charity.
During a question-and-answer session with Liberty Mutual employees, Romney said that despite his personal wealth — his assets likely will total $190 million to $250 million — he has committed himself to public service, from head of the 2002 Winter Olympics to one-term governor of Massachusetts.
"When I got started, I went to school and I never anticipated that I'd be as financially successful as I was, and then my business went far better than I expected it would," Romney, a former venture capitalist, told a woman who asked him how the country's political system could be corrected if most of the presidential candidates are millionaires.
Romney's assets makes him the wealthiest of all the presidential candidates, Democratic or Republican.
"I wouldn't disqualify somebody by virtue of their financial wealth or their financial poverty," Romney said after ticking off his public service work. "I would instead look at their record, what they've done with their life and whether they can make a difference, whether the things they have learned will enable them to be an effective leader."
Later, speaking with reporters, Romney said he would likely follow the example he set while governor, when he declined his $135,000 annual salary. The president of the United States is paid $400,000 annually.
"I haven't really thought ahead that far," Romney said at first. "There are some questions I haven't forecasted, perhaps because that would seem presumptuous of me."
Then, he added: "I presume I would take the salary and then I would donate at least that amount — or more — to charity."
Romney is expected to report more precise figures on his assets in the coming weeks when he files his financial disclosure report.
Meanwhile, Romney told his audience of insurance workers that his experience outside Washington made him most capable of working in a bipartisan fashion as president.
"It's time to have somebody who is not a lifelong politician, who cares less about whether it's a victory for the Republicans or a victory for the Democrats and just cares about whether it's a victory for America," the Republican declared.
Romney struck a different tone moments earlier, when he quipped to his New Hampshire audience that his home state senators were Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry, both Democrats. "Want to trade?" he asked.
Romney also struck a partisan chord last week, when he chastised Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., for voting against an Iraq war funding bill. He branded them members of the "Democrat Party," considered a derisive term by both parties.
In addition, Romney again railed against the proposed immigration deal negotiated between President Bush and Democratic and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. Last week, the president chided his critics, saying, "this bipartisan bill is the best opportunity to move forward."
Romney started his day on a sour note, when a restaurant patron declared he would not vote for him because of his faith.
"I'm one person who will not vote for a Mormon," Al Michaud of Dover shouted at Romney when the former Massachusetts governor approached him inside Harvey's Bakery in downtown Dover.
Romney kept smiling as he asked, "Can I shake your hand anyway?"
Michaud replied, "No."
Michaud later told reporters he was not "a right-winger," alluding to some evangelical Christians who have compared Romney's faith to a cult. Instead, Michaud stated he was "a liberal."
He said he planned to vote for Clinton should she win the Democratic presidential nomination.
If elected, Romney would be the first Mormon to serve in the White House.