IN THE EARLY 1960s, A YOUNG MITT ROMNEY HELPED HIS FATHER, GEORGE, CAMPAIGN TO BECOME GOVERNOR OF MICHIGAN. Mitt, then a teenager, traveled to county fairs and stood in the beds of pickup trucks, making speeches and handing out fliers. At one point, he asked his father: "Should I become a politician someday, too?"
"Dad believed you should only run for office once you were financially independent and your family had matured," Romney said.
He has made that advice into the blueprint for his life, following his father's suggestion with precision. After Romney earned degrees in law and business from Harvard, he accepted a coveted consulting job and then founded Bain Capital, an investment firm where he accrued much of his estimated $200 million fortune.
Romney took leadership positions in the Mormon Church, following his father's example. He served as president of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and helped overcome a bribery scandal and financial disaster. Romney then, just like his father, ran for office as a moderate Republican in a predominantly Democratic state. He became governor of Massachusetts in 2002.
With only one term as governor on his r¿sum¿, Romney now casts himself as a political outsider, a businessman with enough practical experience to accomplish more than usual in Washington. He's accustomed to problem-solving; he's used to budget-crunching. "In business," he said, "you learn how to get things done."
Romney refers often to his father, and he seems partly motivated by a desire to avenge George Romney's failed presidential candidacy in 1968. In speeches, Romney sometimes recalls another piece of advice from his father, who died in 1995: Family comes first. One of the themes of Romney's campaign is to "strengthen the American family" -- to overturn Roe v. Wade (which he once supported), to uphold traditional marriage, to encourage marriage before parenthood.
For a model of his vision, Romney offers up his own family. He married Ann, his high school sweetheart, and they raised five sons. All five are now married and have children of their own, and they take turns accompanying their father on the campaign trail.
"He's living what he talks about," said Tagg Romney, Mitt's oldest son. "Family can create a great cycle. When we're out campaigning with him, we're learning the ropes from our dad -- just like he did from his."
-- Eli Saslow