Editors note Each day this week, the CDT will profile the presidential candidates and their wives, and the vice presidential candidates.
Long before Mitt Romney became the millionaire candidate from Massachusetts, he was his fathers 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.
Romney shares an uncanny physical resemblance to his father, with the same graying temples and square jaw. And their lives have followed strikingly similar paths. As young men, both spent time abroad as Mormon missionaries and then passionately pursued the women they would marry. Both were successful businessmen who made personal fortunes before moving into politics. Both were church leaders, governors and aspiring presidential candidates.
Romney frequently invokes the memory of his father on the campaign trail. Photographs of George Romney adorn his campaign bus and headquarters in Boston.
If people understood that equation of George Romney and his impact on my life and on Mitts life, they wouldnt be so curious about why Mitt is running for president, Romneys wife, Ann, said in 2007, when her husband first sought the presidency. He is why Mitt is running.
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.
George Romneys candidacy he was then a leading contender for the 1968 Republican presidential nomination never recovered.
His son never forgot.
It did tell me you have to be very, very careful in your choice of words, he said in 2005. The careful selection of words is something Im more attuned to because Dad fell into that quagmire.
Critics say the father who railed against conservative extremism would hardly recognize the sons 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 Romneys core beliefs.
Multiple Choice Mitt, Edward M. Kennedy famously dubbed Romney during their 1994 U.S. Senate race in Massachusetts, a charge that still echoes.
Romney doesnt attempt to explain the changes, other than to say he has evolved on issues.
Im as consistent as human beings can be, he told a New Hampshire editorial board last year.
Speaking to the NAACP in July, Mitt Romney said blacks would vote for him if they understood who I truly am in my heart. Thats a dubious assertion his opponent is Barack Obama, after all but it does raise the question: What is in Mitt Romneys 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. Unavailable and unrevealing, the candidate is far from an open book.
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, Romney 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.
To understand Mitt Romney, says Ronald Scott, a distant cousin who wrote a biography of the candidate, you cannot underestimate the influence of his father, or the importance of Mormonism in shaping his life.
Willard Mitt Romney was considered something of a miracle baby by his parents, born in 1947 after a difficult pregnancy. The youngest of four, he 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. Former classmates remember him dressing as a police officer and tapping on the car windows of teenage friends on dates. He once staged an elaborate formal dinner on the median of a busy street.
His prankster reputation was depicted in a darker light in a recent Washington Post article, which described how he and others taunted a gay student, pinning him down and cutting off his long hair. Romney says he doesnt remember the incident and apologized if his youthful high jinks offended anyone.
He wasnt a standout, but there was definitely something special about him, says Eric Muirhead, then captain of the schools cross-country team, who describes a race in which Romney stumbled over and over. Clearly struggling, his teammates tried to help him, but he angrily waved them away. Though Romney finished dead last, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
To this day, Muirhead says, he has never witnessed such determination.
In his senior year, Romney 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.
France was a tough challenge for a clean-cut young American trying to convert wine-loving Catholics to a religion that eschews alcohol, and Romney has talked about the humiliation of having door after door slammed in his face.
But it was in France that he first emerged as a leader. When a devastating car crash killed the wife of the mission president, Romney, who was behind the wheel when another car slammed into his, went on to head the mission after recovering from his injuries.
Former classmate and friend Jim Bailey said that when Romney returned to the U.S. he was noticeably more mature and far more disciplined in his studies.
It was a life-changing experience and he learned a huge amount, Bailey said.
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 a total of 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.
He was calculating, an intelligent risk-taker, with very high expectations of himself and the people working for him, said Geoffrey Rehnert, one of Bain Capitals co-founders.
Bain made Romney 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 such retail icons as Staples, The Sports Authority and Dominos Pizza.
But, as his record at Bain has come under increasing scrutiny, it has also raised questions about Romneys core values and style. The Obama campaign has accused Romney of being a job destroyer and outsourcer in chief for the factories that Bain closed and the jobs it moved abroad.