At the moment, it's hard to tell if Romney is proud of what he accomplished. "Some things worked, some didn't, and some things I'd change," he remarks now, somewhat defensively. He says his measures were not a federal mandate on all states, a fundamental difference that still does not erase the fact that government made the rules and diverted the tax dollars to make the changes happen.
He tackled this conundrum head on in a half-hour talk and slide show in Michigan last month. He had called his book "No Apology" as a dig at President Barack Obama, whom he accuses of selling American exceptionalism short. But this time the label applied to him. There would be no apology for Romneycare; instead, a somewhat tortured explanation of it.
"A lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, that it was just a boneheaded idea and I should just admit it," Romney said then. "There's only one problem with that: It wouldn't be honest. I, in fact, did what I believe was right for the people of my state."
The speech was largely a bust with conservatives, although it appears not to have knocked him down many pegs. In any event, his book lays out different, safely Republican ideas about how to fix the system. He calls it "free-market health care." Expect to hear a lot about that in the GOP debates to come.
Son of George Romney, who was chairman of the old American Motors, a Michigan governor and failed Republican presidential hopeful in the 1960s, Willard Mitt Romney earned simultaneous law and business degrees at Harvard on his way to a high-flying corporate career that would take a turn to politics.
He worked for Boston Consulting Group, helping companies fatten their bottom lines. Then he moved to rival Bain & Co., where he led a new spinoff, Bain Capital, which combined management consulting with investments in promising companies. He helped start or reinvigorate hundreds of companies, Staples and Domino's Pizza among them, on his way to amassing a personal fortune.
It's just the resume the country needs, says Romney, who calls Obama "one of the most ineffective presidents" he's ever seen.
"What I know and what I've spent my life doing is particularly relevant right now," he said last weekend in Iowa.
Romney took on Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, a hopeless quest. "He took me to school," Romney said afterward. Years later Kennedy would stand with Romney at the signing of the landmark health care law.
Romney cemented his reputation as a turnaround artist when he stepped in to clean up the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, reeling with accusations of bribery and resignations from the organizing committee. He cut costs, boosted revenues and oversaw a successful event despite the dark shadow over the nation from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
That made it a ripe time to reawaken his political ambition. Republicans recruited him to run for governor in deeply Democratic Massachusetts. Backed by $6 million of his own money, he won.
The combination of fiscally conservative and socially moderate policies he brought to that race proved a winning formula in the state, but complicated the 2008 primaries, which are dominated by conservative voters. His challenge then remains his challenge now on the road to 2012.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.
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