TAMPA — Mitt Romney has worked toward this moment for years.
When he takes the stage on Friday to accept the Republican Party’s nomination for president, it will mark the pinnacle of a quest he began in his youth.
His family talked about government policy and the nuances of politics at the dinner table when Willard Mitt Romney and his three older siblings were growing up in suburban Detroit.
His father, the late George Romney, chairman and president of American Motors Corp., became a popular Michigan governor in the 1960s. His mother unsuccessfully campaigned for the U.S. Senate in 1970.
"We were not only instilled by our parents to serve our country in what best matched our talents, but we felt it was our obligation," Romney, 65, told the Tribune-Review in a recent interview.
When he gets the chance to talk with people, "I tell them that they see where the president’s policies have taken America, based on the experience of the last 31⁄2 years, promises made and not kept — not for want of trying, but the president’s policies just don’t work," Romney said.
"And if they want a future that is more like years in the past, like under Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, then they want a government that encourages enterprise, that celebrates success, that welcomes achievement, doesn’t denigrate and attack fellow Americans and that makes government the friend of enterprise, as opposed to the foe of enterprise."
Political philosophy takes form Romney, a Mormon and father of five who took office in 2003 as a one-term governor of Massachusetts, began his adult life with a 30-month missionary trip to France after a year at Stanford University. He returned from overseas to marry Ann Davies, whom he had met while attending a private boys preparatory school, and enrolled in Brigham Young University.
After graduation, he attended Harvard University’s law and business schools.
Those years and Romney’s rise in the business world — to head the Boston-based
private equity company Bain Capital in 1984 — helped shape his differences from
"Barack Obama is a throwback to an earlier era of Democrats who wanted a strong
economy but did not like business," Romney said. "And a strong economy is made up of othing but businesses. … If you want to see a roaring economy with good jobs again, you are going to have to have someone who understands how enterprises grow and thrive."
For this week, when Romney won’t need to campaign with supporters, he needs to worry only about a gaffe or unplanned issue, experts said. Important decisions — his platform, his running mate — are made.
Now he needs to show Americans "that he could take them to a better place," said
Curt Nichols, a political scientist at Baylor University.
‘Mitt is grace under fire’
Like his father, who ran a failed presidential campaign in 1968, Romney has tried and lost elections.
In 1994, he lost the Senate race in Massachusetts to the late Ted Kennedy. He left Bain in 1999 when the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics organizing committee tapped him to fix its budget and renew enthusiasm after a scandal involving allegations that it bribed members of the International Olympic Committee for the right to host the games.
After the games, he began his bid for the governorship of his adopted Bay State.
Then, as now, he touted his business acumen to address government’s fiscal
Though trailing his Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Shannon O’Brien, just weeks before the election, Romney rebounded and won with 50 percent of the vote in November 2002.
"Mitt is grace under fire; he keeps everyone around him grounded," said Stuart
Stevens, a senior adviser to Romney. "What people don’t know about him is that he truly wants to do this because he loves his country. It is what drives him."
When he took office in 2003, Massachusetts had a budget deficit of more than $1
Romney earned public approval for handling the problem.
His term ended with budget surpluses gained by spending cuts, increased fees and the closing of corporate tax loopholes.
Yet his time in the governor’s mansion is perhaps most notable for the health care law he signed in 2006, which requires nearly all Massachusetts residents to buy insurance coverage or face tax penalties.
He began campaigning for president soon after leaving office, but lost his party’s nomination to Sen. John McCain of Arizona in 2008.
Romney quit the race but did not leave the national stage, becoming an ardent critic of Obama’s policies until announcing his decision to run again in the summer of 2011.
"When he ran the first time, in 2008, it was sort of like the feeling you have the first time you ski," Ann Romney told the Trib this spring. "The first time down the hill is terrifying; the next time is much easier."
A new ’cause campaign’
Despite the attention Romney has received over the years and the 24-hour news
scrutiny of this campaign’s grueling primary process, millions of Americans likely do not know much about Romney.
He told the Trib in July that he has been preparing what he will say to the nation for months, jotting down notes daily, "especially after meeting people and listening to them talk about their struggles."
Organizers with the Republican National Committee anticipate 40 million television viewers for the speech, based on the 38.9 million who watched McCain’s.
Yet this is "a different election and a different moment than four years ago," said Bruce Haynes, a Washington-based GOP political strategist. Then the "cause campaign"
was Obama’s; now "Romney has an opportunity to run the ’cause campaign.’"
A successful convention could provide the GOP ticket with a bump that carries it
through September, said David Woodard, a Clemson University political science
"They have to talk about principles, the Constitution and the present crisis of
spending, debt and world economic turmoil," Woodard said, though any bump in polls won’t matter when October arrives with presidential debates.
Romney’s demeanor and his speech must emphasize that "the Republican vision is the one to lead America back," said Josh Putnam, a political scientist at Davidson College. The economy is "the tie that binds everyone, of all political stripes, and probably the ground where Romney’s argument is firmest."
"I’m looking for a more relaxed and confident Mitt Romney, someone who will use
self-deprecating humor and loosen up a bit before the big moment," Woodard said of the convention’s opening days. "Then on Thursday, I’m expecting to see a ‘game-face’ Romney, who will … call the party faithful to battle."
With his family beside him, look for Romney to reintroduce his personal, business and political successes to the world.
"He needs to own that he is a successful product of what America is all about,"
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Political Reporter