Romney started off strong, tapping into a well of Kennedy fatigue. But Kennedy rallied and focused on some of Bain Capital's business deals. He The Kennedy campaign brought in workers from one Indiana business, Ampad, where Bain had laid off employees, cut wages and slashed benefits.
Kennedy ended up winning the election 58 percent to 41 percent.
"He had been advertised by certain pundits as being over the hill, but he is far from it," Romney said. "He took me to school."
The two would meet again for a political fence-mending in 2000, when Romney led Kennedy on a tour of the newly completed Mormon temple in Belmont, less than a half-mile from Romney's home.
The structure with its brilliant white spire was the 100th Mormon temple in the world and a personal achievement for Romney, who worked to spread the faith in New England, where he served as a bishop and later as president of a collection of churches.
He also found an outlet for civic service in the community service organization City Year, according to the organization's co-founder Michael Brown. Romney made sure both Bain Capital and Bain & Co. supported the group.
"He would dive right in. He would get the dirtiest," Brown said, recalling one year when Romney helped build a new playground. "He got right in there in the cement."
Civic service on a grander scale lay ahead.
In the late 1990s, Utah, the seat of Romney's Mormon faith, was reeling. To land the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Salt Lake Organizing Committee had enticed International Olympics officials with lavish gifts. Accusations of bribery mired the Games in scandal. Resignations sullied the region's reputation.
Utah officials went looking for a white knight someone above reproach with business savvy who could not only restore confidence in their leadership but also in the Games and their host city. They turned to Romney.
A friend in Utah suggested Ann float the idea with her husband.
"Ann called me at the office and said, 'Now, don't say no right away,' and she put forth the proposition, and I said no right away," Romney said. "Over time, she convinced me that the Olympics was more than a sporting event."
It didn't hurt that the Olympics had an international profile. Romney took the job of president and CEO of the organizing committee. He pared the budget, boosted revenues and worked to repair the committee's reputation with sponsors.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001. In the aftermath of the terror attacks, Romney found himself at the helm of a ripe target.
Romney turned risk into reward. Backed by unprecedented federal support, the Games opened under the tightest security in Olympic history. International support for the United States welled at the opening ceremonies, where Romney and President Bush walked to the middle of the Olympic stadium to await the arrival of an American flag from the toppled World Trade Center.
The Games cemented Romney's reputation as a "turnaround" king. That prompted his return to the political arena.
While he was trying to salvage the Olympics, Massachusetts' once booming economy had flatlined. State Republicans, who had held the governor's office since 1991, sought out Romney after Gov. Paul Cellucci headed off to Canada as U.S. ambassador and his replacement, Lt. Gov. Jane Swift, stumbled.
"It would be disingenuous to say he was a reluctant bride," said Ron Kaufman, a national Republican committeeman from Massachusetts who is now advising Romney's presidential campaign committee. "But it was a legitimate draft."
Romney presented himself as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. He opposed new taxes, but he also pledged not to change the state's abortion laws and vowed support for gay rights and other liberal items. Boosted by more than $6 million of his own money, he won.
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