WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican heavyweight Mitt Romney took a first step toward a 2012 presidential bid on Monday, forming an exploratory committee to raise money for a challenge to President Barack Obama.
Romney, an unsuccessful presidential contender in 2008, enters the race this time as one of the most well-known and best-funded potential rivals to Obama, a Democrat. He scores high in opinion polls against other Republicans seeking their party's nomination.
The former head of a private equity firm and a multimillionaire, Romney said Obama's economic policies had failed because he did not understand how jobs were created in the real world.
"It is time that we put America back on a course of greatness, with a growing economy, good jobs and fiscal discipline in Washington," Romney said in a video filmed on Monday morning in New Hampshire and posted on his new website.
Romney is the second major Republican candidate to form an exploratory committee in the slow-starting 2012 race. Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty took that first formal step on March 21.
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, hovers near the top of most polls of Republicans along with former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who also ran for the party's 2008 presidential nomination.
Romney's broad name recognition, extensive fund-raising contacts and deep pockets make him an early frontrunner in a Republican field still waiting to take shape. Other possible well-known contenders like Huckabee and former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin may not enter the race at all.
But Romney, 64, has been planning his run since he lost the 2008 presidential nomination to Arizona Senator John McCain, traveling the country frequently to speak to potential supporters and court donors.
He battled questions in that race about the depth and sincerity of his conservative principles after years governing in liberal Massachusetts, and faced questions about his Mormon faith from evangelical Christian voters.
He has already drawn criticism from Republican conservatives for his support as governor of a broad healthcare program in Massachusetts that became a model for the national healthcare overhaul pushed and signed into law by Obama.
Romney, who is wealthy from his time as head of private equity firm Bain Capital, stressed his business experience in his video.
"My work led me to become deeply involved in helping other businesses, from innovative startups to large companies going through tough times," Romney said.
"Sometimes I was successful and helped create jobs, other times I was not. I learned how America competes with companies in other countries, why jobs leave, and how jobs are created here at home."
Romney stepped in to rescue the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City after the organizing committee was tarred by allegations of bribery by top officials.
The son of an automobile executive and three-term Republican governor of Michigan, Romney graduated from Brigham Young University in Utah and later from Harvard with a joint master's of business and law degree.