BELMONT, MA—Though Mitt Romney is considered to be a frontrunner for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, the national spotlight has forced him to repeatedly confront a major skeleton in his political closet: that as governor of Massachusetts he once tried to help poor, uninsured sick people.
Romney, who signed the state's 2006 health care reform act, has said he "deeply regrets" giving people in poor physical and mental health the opportunity to seek medical attention, admitting that helping very sick people get better remains a dark cloud hovering over his political career, and his biggest obstacle to becoming president of the United States of America.
"Every day I am haunted by the fact that I gave impoverished Massachusetts citizens a chance to receive health care," Romney told reporters Wednesday, adding that he feels ashamed whenever he looks back at how he forged bipartisan support to help uninsured Americans afford medicine to cure their illnesses. "I'm only human, and I've made mistakes. None bigger, of course, than helping cancer patients receive chemotherapy treatments and making sure that those suffering from pediatric AIDS could obtain medications, but that's my cross to bear."
"My hope is that Republican voters will one day forgive me for making it easier for sick people—especially low-income sick people—to go to the hospital and see a doctor," Romney added. "It was wrong, and I'm sorry."
According to Romney, if he could do things over again, he would do everything he could to make certain that uninsured individuals got sicker and sicker until they died. Promising his days of trying to provide medical coverage to the gravely ill are behind him, Romney said that if elected president, he would never even think about increasing anyone's quality of life or trying to lower the infant mortality rate.
In addition, Romney repeatedly apologized for wanting to help people suffering from diabetes, Crohn's disease, and anemia.
"I don't know what got into me back then," Romney said. "Wanting to make sure people were able to have health insurance if they left their job. Providing a federally funded website so individuals could compare the costs of insurance providers. Making certain that somebody who earns less than 150 percent of the poverty level can receive the same health care coverage as me or any government official. All I can say is that I was young and immature, and I am not that person anymore."
"The only solace I can take is in the hope that some of the folks I helped were terminally ill patients who eventually withered away and died," Romney added.
Though Romney has apologized profusely, Beltway insiders said he would need to distance himself from his I-tried-to-help-sickpeople image. Sources noted that Romney's current promise to take away health care from anyone who can't afford it is a step in the right direction, but might not be enough.
"The major strike against Mitt Romney is that he not only tried to help people get medical care, he actually did help people get medical care," conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg said. "No other Republican in the field has that type of baggage. And in the end, in order to defeat President Obama, the GOP needs someone who has a track record of never wanting to help sick people."
Thus far, Romney is polling strongly in early primary states like New Hampshire and Iowa, but Republican strategists and voters agree that even in a general election, his sordid past would continue to dog him.
"I don't think I can vote for someone like that," Pennsylvania Republican Eric Tolbert said. "He says he's sorry, but how do I know that's the real Mitt Romney? What happens if he gets elected and tries to help sick people again?"
"I like Michele Bachmann now," Tolbert added. "Because what this country needs is a president who doesn't give a fuck about helping people."