WASHINGTON — What are the odds of this? A guy gets into a head-on collision, has a police officer write "He is dead" at the scene, and lives to tell.
Mitt Romney knows a thing or two about second chances.
After that long-ago highway collision when he was a young missionary serving in France, Romney earned an outsized reputation and millions of dollars as a corporate turnaround artist, fixing bottom lines, cleaning up the scandal-tarred Salt Lake City Olympics and giving various other endeavors a second wind.
Now he is determined to do that for himself. (And his country, he would say.)
"I've never seen an enterprise in more desperate need of a turnaround than the U.S. government," Romney says.
An also-ran to John McCain in the 2008 Republican nomination fight, Romney is the closest thing to a front-runner that the still-jelling GOP presidential field for 2012 has to offer. On Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor makes his candidacy official during an appearance at a farm in Stratham, N.H.
With his good looks, able fundraising, strong political organization, solid family and business acumen, Romney sounds like a candidate ordered from central casting to run in a time of economic stress.
But to succeed where he failed four years ago, Romney, 64, will need to convince voters that behind the picture-perfect presentation lurks a human being with a passion to lead and an unshakeable set of convictions.
The rap against Romney in 2008 was that he'd conveniently reinvented himself to fit the political environment of the day. The man who'd governed Massachusetts as a pro-abortion rights moderate and delivered a bold statewide plan for universal health care coverage offered himself to Republicans as an anti-abortion social conservative who advocated limited government.
And that set off authenticity alarm bells with voters around the country. Pundits who thought his Mormon faith might be a problem for him concluded his changing political convictions probably caused him more grief.
This time around, Romney hopes the campaign for the GOP nomination will roll down his "power alley" — the economy and his business background — and away from social issues that bogged him down. He's coming across as a little looser in the process. After he got into a tiff with a rapper onboard an aircraft last year, the well-gelled Romney joked that the singer "broke my hair."
Over the past four years, he wrote a book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," built a political machine and cultivated diverse friends.
The dust had hardly settled on the bruising nomination struggle of 2008 when Romney threw himself behind the candidate who had defeated him, began raising money for Republicans across the country and started pushing all the right buttons in the party.
Watching this unfold, Republican strategist Mary Matalin was struck by how Romney, in seeking common cause with the party's religious, intellectual and economic forces, may have "the greatest potential to pull all those factions together" even though other candidates may stir more passion in their core followers.
If only he could get "Romneycare" off his back.
The health care law he signed as governor has gone on to extend coverage to more than 98 percent of Massachusetts residents, unparalleled in the nation. But he's not bragging.
The package's stiff insurance mandate, its protections against losing coverage, penalties for noncompliance and subsidies for those needing help were largely embraced and adapted in President Barack Obama's national overhaul. That risks causing Romney no end of grief from Republican rivals as the field plays to anti-government sentiment and goes after "Obamacare" in the primaries.
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