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Romney took on 'outsider' role at helm of Bay State

Self-styled CEO governor stressed belt-tightening

Published: Friday, July 6 2007 12:05 a.m. MDT

Outgoing Gov. Mitt Romney and Ann Romney listen to a 19-gun salute during his final walk out of the Statehouse in Boston on Jan. 3, 2007. Romney slashed spending during his tenure as governor.

Elise Amendola, Associated Press

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 » Series link — Special report from The Boston Globe

A year before the torch-lighting of the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics, Mitt Romney's leadership was earning him mentions as a candidate for governor — in two states.

Future public service was likely, he declared, either in Massachusetts or Utah, where some pundits theorized he might fit in as a Democrat. Speculation increased about a run in conservative Utah when he objected to a July 2001 story in the Salt Lake Tribune describing him as "pro-choice" on abortion. "I do not wish to be labeled pro-choice," his letter to the editor said.

Late in 2001, a column in Salt Lake City's Deseret News, headlined "Romney has a shot at Utah governorship," cited sources close to Romney who believed "he wants a position with enough national exposure to launch a presidential campaign."

Massachusetts was clearly the bigger launch pad, but there was an impediment — Jane M. Swift, who had become acting governor when Paul Cellucci became ambassador to Canada. She was preparing to run in 2002, and Romney had said there was little chance he would challenge a sitting Republican.

Swift, however, was slipping into free fall after political missteps compounded earlier ethical transgressions that had resulted in a $1,250 fine for using her aides as baby sitters.

Panic-stricken Republican activists feared the loss of the governorship, their only prize in the lopsidedly Democratic state.

Antitax activist Barbara Anderson recalls leaving the following message on Romney's answering machine: "I know you're really busy now with the Olympics, but when you're finished, please come back and save Massachusetts."

The state party's new chairwoman, Kerry Healey, discreetly flew to Salt Lake City to gauge his intentions. He was noncommittal.

When the Games closed on Feb. 24, Romney recorded an amazing favorability rating of 87 percent in a Deseret News/KSL-TV poll. In Massachusetts, Romney's own poll showed he would be a viable candidate against any Democrat.

Meanwhile, his agents were quietly hiring staff and consultants, and scheduling a formal announcement — whether Swift was in or out.

The health of Ann Romney, his wife, was a factor in the decision. A day before returning to Massachusetts, she told a Globe reporter that she had reservations about the move because her multiple sclerosis symptoms had abated during three years in Utah. "It's the one thing that's keeping us ... " she said before her husband interjected: "Careful. Hold it. Don't finish that sentence ... " But she did, saying she had "huge qualms because I've been healthy out here."

The next day, March 17, the Romneys flew to Massachusetts, met at the airport by reporters and a Boston Herald poll that showed Romney crushing Swift by a 75 percent to 12 percent in a race for the GOP nomination.

Within 48 hours, Swift pulled out of the race at a tearful Statehouse press conference.

That afternoon, Romney made his candidacy official. "Lest there be any doubt, I'm in," he told reporters.

The next day, he deposited $75,000 in a new campaign account, the first installment of $6.3 million of his own money he would spend on the race.

Romney's aides feared that his wealth could spark criticism that he was a cold-hearted capitalist, as it did in his 1994 Senate campaign.

They were especially worried that another rich businessman, real estate investor Jim Rappaport, might win the primary for lieutenant governor.

Romney said he would remain neutral in the lieutenant governor's race, but his loyal wingman Bob White and campaign strategist Mike Murphy were working to avert a Romney-Rappaport ticket of two rich white men.

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