*The following profile is excerpted from a recent report by Associated Press Special Corresponent Helen O’Neal.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is being nominated this week as the Republican Party’s presidential candidate by delegates at the party’s convention in Tampa.
He is expected to address the convention Thursday night. He had already won enough party delegates to be the candidate and the confirmation in Tampa is a formality. Voters will choose between Romney and the incumbent Democrat President Barack Obama in November.
Long before Willard Mitt Romney became the millionaire president candidate from Massachusetts, he was his father’s son, weeding the garden in the upscale suburb of Detroit where he grew up. He hated the chore. But he idolized the man who made him do it — George Romney, the outspoken, no-nonsense, auto executive turned politician.
The biggest difference between father and son? Personality.
George Romney was a garrulous, engaging, shoot-from-the-hip politician who stuck to his principles and said what he believed — to his political peril. With his 17-year-old son by his side, he stalked out of the 1964 Republican convention after trying unsuccessfully to promote a plank in the party platform denouncing extremism.
In 1967, he was drummed out of presidential politics after saying he had been “brainwashed” by American generals into supporting the Vietnam War while touring Southeast Asia two years earlier.
His candidacy — he was then a leading contender for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination — never recovered. His son never forgot.
Critics say the father who railed against conservative extremism would hardly recognize the son’s accommodations to those on the right. Or his complete reversal on key issues — abortion, gun control, tax pledges and gay rights — that leave even some supporters scratching their heads about Romney’s core beliefs.
Romney doesn’t attempt to explain the changes, other than to say he has “evolved” on issues.
Speaking to the NAACP in July, Romney said blacks would vote for him if they “understood who I truly am in my heart.” That’s a dubious assertion but it does raise the question: What is in Mitt Romney’s heart?
Friends and family testify to his fine impulses but those who do not know him well must see past his stiff, sometimes painstakingly scripted responses. They must look for patterns in his political zigzags and try to account for his extraordinary ambition.
But some of the influences that helped make Romney the man he is are apparent. His father, for one. And the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which, for believers, is considered as much a way of life as it is a religion.
Romney, who rarely talks about his faith in public, grew up steeped in the Mormon tradition which emphasizes family, service, industriousness, tenaciousness and humility.
There is no paid hierarchy in the Mormon faith and male church members serve as lay leaders. Romney spent about 14 years as a bishop and stake president — an ecclesiastical leader who oversaw a dozen congregations and thousands of worshippers in New England.
Though he had a demanding business career and was raising five boys, he devoted up to 25 hours a week to church duties — giving sermons, visiting the sick and counseling members about everything from work to marriage. He once described himself as a “true-blue through and through” believer, though he has taken pains to declare that the teachings of the church would not influence his obligations as president.
The youngest of four, Romney was raised in the affluent Bloomfield Hills section of Detroit, where his father was CEO of the now-defunct American Motors Corp. before becoming governor of Michigan. His mother, Lenore, later was an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate.
Enrolled at the elite Cranbrook School, Romney was a mediocre student and a poor athlete best known for his love of practical jokes. In his senior year, he began dating his future wife, Ann Davies, who attended a sister school to Cranbrook.
The young Romney was so smitten that, when he went to France for two and a half years as a Mormon missionary, his father took the young woman under his wing and introduced her to the church. The elder Romney eventually baptized her in the faith.
After graduating from Brigham Young University in 1971, Romney earned dual law and business degrees from Harvard. He headed straight into the business world, joining the Boston Consulting Group and then Bain & Co., another Boston-based consulting organization. In 1984 he was picked to head its spinoff, Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought and restructured companies.
At Bain, where he spent 15 years, Romney was known as a tireless leader who immersed himself in mountains of data, weighed all arguments and often sweated profusely during rigorous decision-making sessions. Bain made him fabulously wealthy. He has a net worth estimated at $250 million.
Romney consistently points to his Bain resume as proof of what he can accomplish, projecting an image of a take-charge businessman who understands what drives the economy and how to create jobs. According to Romney, his company created 100,000 new jobs (numbers that are difficult to verify) and helped grow retail icons such as Staples, The Sports Authority and Domino’s Pizza.
But, as Romney’s record at Bain has come under increasing scrutiny, it has also raised questions about his core values and style. The Obama campaign has accused him of being a job destroyer and “outsourcer in chief” for the factories that Bain closed and the jobs it moved abroad.
Others describe a big-hearted businessman who put family firmly first. In 1996, Romney shut down the company after a managing director’s 14-year-old daughter went missing after a party. The entire staff was dispatched to New York, where they fanned out with fliers and search teams. She eventually was found at a friend’s house.
Others testify to similar acts of kindness during Romney’s time as church leader in the 1980s and 1990s.
But there was also an authoritarian side that struck some as self-righteous and cold.
As a young bishop in 1983 Romney learned that a married mother of four in his ward had been advised by doctors to terminate her latest pregnancy as she was being treated for a potentially dangerous blood clot. Her stake president already had approved, when Romney arrived at the hospital and sternly urged her to reconsider. “As your bishop,” she said Romney told her, “my concern is with the child.”
Romney’s first foray into politics, in 1994, struck some as political insanity. Prodded by his father, he challenged Kennedy, the so-called “liberal lion” from Massachusetts, one of the most Democratic states.
He presented himself as pro-choice, a champion for gay rights and in favor of gun control — among numerous positions he later reversed. Initially the squeaky-clean newcomer did well in the polls, unnerving the Kennedy campaign. But once the Kennedy machine swung into full gear, Romney’s campaign faltered. Foreshadowing the attack ads of today, Kennedy aggressively went after Romney’s record at Bain, casting him as a coldhearted capitalist willing to do anything for profits.
For the first time, Romney’s religion was also publicly scrutinized.
Romney, who refused to run negative ads against Kennedy, said later that he learned valuable lessons from his defeat — that “if fired upon, you return fire.”
Back at Bain, Romney was restless for a new challenge. It came in 1999 when he was recruited to, as he puts it, “rescue the Winter Olympics.” At the time, the 2002 games in Salt Lake City had become mired in a bribery scandal and faced a massive deficit. The organizing committee needed a white knight and Romney eagerly hurled himself into the job.
But while many credit him with turning around the Olympics and invigorating a demoralized staff, others say he magnified the extent of the financial problems, unfairly vilified earlier executives and was as intent on promoting himself as much as the games.
Sure enough, after a triumphant return to Boston, Romney wasted no time in launching his bid for governor of Massachusetts. He was sworn in on Jan. 2, 2003, placing his hand on the same Bible his father had used when he was sworn in as governor of Michigan.
Romney’s immediate task was to tackle a $3 billion budget deficit. He instituted a series of spending cuts and fee increases — critics equated them with taxes — for many state licenses and services. But his signature achievement was health care reform.
Reaching out to Democratic leaders, Romney succeeded in passing a health care law that requires everyone in Massachusetts to buy insurance or pay a penalty.
The law, which Romney signed with great pomp with Kennedy at his side, became the model for the national version pushed by Obama and recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court — a law Romney has vowed to repeal if elected.
Today, Romney is back on the trail in pursuit of that job — one that eluded him four years ago when he lost the Republican nomination to John McCain. This time around, he is noticeably more confident and seems more comfortable in his own skin.
Yet, as much as he tries to humanize himself, the 65-year-old candidate cannot shake the image of someone whose wealth and privileged life have insulated him from ordinary people.