Ryan Winn, Columnist
Writing from: Washington, D.C

Arguably the highest profile GOP Presidential candidate to not have announced his intention to seek the Republican nomination in 2012 is former Governor Mitt Romney. Early polling from the democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling indicates that Romney is leading in the early states among most groups likely to make up the primary electorate, with the notable exception of “very conservative” voters. This trend is problematic for Romney because the primary voters he is courting tend to come from the most conservative sectors of the party. One of the biggest liabilities for Governor Romney with conservative voters is the healthcare reform package he ushered through the Massachusetts State House. The plan, endorsed by Romney, contains an individual mandate similar to the mandate included in President Obama’s healthcare reform package. This provision requires all Massachusetts residents to purchase healthcare insurance from a variety of plans approved by state regulators but provided through private insurers. Those who cannot afford a plan are able to receive treatment at any hospital in Massachusetts, however if it is determined (via tax information) that someone could afford a plan they are ascribed a tax penalty.

The merits of this system aside Romneycare, as the Governor’s political opponents have come to dub it, is already the topic of heated debate in the unsettled GOP primary field.  President Obama has also weighed in on this issue by publicly praising Romney’s work on healthcare, however this has only increased the pressure on Romney to distance himself from Romneycare and the resemblance it bears to Obamacare.

While many including conservative favorite Senator Jim Demint of South Carolina have encouraged Governor Romney to condemn the healthcare reform he was instrumental in passing in Massachusetts I believe Romney has an opportunity to use this issue to open a debate on the importance of state’s rights in the U.S. Instead of backing away from the hallmark of his administration, Governor Romney would be better served politically by embracing Romneycare as an example of a plan that was right for Massachusetts at the time and not as a model for national deployment. Reasserting the right of governors and state legislatures to determine the best path for their respective states has the potential to be a major point scorer with Tea Party activists concerned by federal infringements on states’ rights. Appealing to the resurgent constitutionalism among many grassroots activists offers Romney the chance to outflank his critics on the right and bone up his conservative policy credentials.

More importantly, running away from the largest accomplishment as Governor of Massachusetts leaves Romney without a key policy achievement and will reinforce the “used-car salesman” image he has struggled to shrug off since his campaign in 2008. The debate over Romneycare allows Mitt the opportunity to have a Reaganesque “this is my microphone moment” where he lives up to the title of presumptive front runner.