Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney likes some of the aspects of the new federal health care law that are similar to the state-level reforms passed when he was governor of Massachusetts.

But he doesn't like any of the differences, he said at a program for cadets and the public Thursday at The Citadel.

Romney spoke and signed copies of his book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," at a lunch-time event sponsored by The Citadel Republican Society.

Romney said he likes that the Massachusetts health care program offers insurance to everyone; is portable; can't drop people for pre-existing conditions; and permits "no free-riders," people who can afford insurance but refuse to pay.

But it's different than the federal program pushed by President Barack Obama, he said. Unlike the Bay State's plan, Obama's plan raised taxes, cut Medicaid and established price controls, Romney said. The Massachusetts program also largely had the support of the state's residents, unlike the new federal program, he said. He lauded Republican congressmen who refused to vote to support the bill.

DuBose Kapeluck, a political science professor at The Citadel, said the health care issue could prove to be Romney's albatross if he decides to run in 2012. Republicans might associate him with a plan they didn't support.

Romney's Mormon religion might also work against him in South Carolina. "Many self-described Christians in South Carolina see Mormonism as something different than what they believe in," Kapeluck said.

Romney finished fourth in the South Carolina Republican presidential primary in 2008.

When asked by a cadet if he intends to run for president again in 2012, Romney said he hasn't decided. "A decision like that is one you make at the last possible moment," he said.

Citadel cadet Michael Burris, a senior who identifies himself as a conservative Republican, said he supports whoever is president of the United States at any given time.

But he came to the event because Romney supports "a strong economy, a strong military and freedom." Those issues are important, Burris said, because "a lot of freedoms have been taken away lately."

Later in the day, Romney endorsed state Rep. Nikki Haley, R-Lexington, for governor.

Haley is one of four Republicans running in the primary election to replace Gov. Mark Sanford. The others are U.S. Rep. Gresham Barrett, Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer and Attorney General Henry McMaster. Candidates in the Democratic primary are state Sen. Robert Ford of Charleston, state Education Superintendent Jim Rex and state Sen. Vincent Sheheen of Camden.

Reach Diane Knich dknich@postandcourier.com.