"If anybody was ever 'woodshedded' by (former Governors) Norm Bangerter or Mike Leavitt, you knew what it was like to be woodshedded," Valentine said. "I never saw that from Huntsman. He would say, 'I'm very disappointed in you, what can we do.' "
U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, who served as general counsel to the governor during Huntsman's first term, said Huntsman did not outsource his decisions.
"It is true he'll allow people with different and divergent interests to make a presentation before he makes a decision," Lee said. "In all aspects of his personality and all aspects of his leadership, he is very diplomatic."
But, Lee said, Huntsman was not afraid to break ranks with other Republicans on issues that matter to him, such as the effort a few years ago to restore dental benefits to the state's poorest residents.
"He fought hard on that," Lee recalled. "When he made a decision, especially if it was a decision he was very excited about, he would fight hard for it."
Massachusetts anti-tax activist Barbara Anderson met Romney during his first political race in 1994, a failed attempt to unseat the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy. Years later, she called Romney at the downtown Salt Lake Olympic headquarters to urge him to run for governor in 2002 "and save Massachusetts."
"This isn't someone who's going to sit and watch things go wrong. He's going to do something," Anderson said. "I get the impression it's a personality thing."
Romney, she said, never really cared much about the social issues like gay marriage and abortion rights that have gotten him in trouble over the years because of his shifting positions.
"He cares about what he cares about, which is the economic issues," Anderson said. "I have no idea what his real convictions are" on those social issues. "He was going along with the base so he could get things done."
Romney's biggest accomplishment in office was pushing through sweeping health care reform in Massachusetts, at the same time he was positioning himself for his first White House bid.
"Whatever your perceptions are of 'Romney care,' that was an extraordinary achievement," said William Crotty, a political science professor at Boston's Northeastern University.
And, he said, it's a primary example of Romney's problem-oriented approach to governing.
"With Mitt Romney, you get exactly what he seems to be," Crotty said. "He is essentially no-nonsense. He is very much the CEO type."
Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime Romney friend and supporter, said Romney's experience buying up failing companies and reselling them at a profit prepared him to tackle a wide range of issues in the public sector.
To be a successful turn-around artist, Romney and his associates had to dip deep into a company's financial situation, Jowers said. In the public sector, people learn quickly that Romney wants details, he said.
That "throws a lot of experts off, because typically public officials are looking for the sound bite, the short answer," Jowers said. "It's ingrained in him to dig below the superficial answers."
Utahns saw that firsthand when Romney took over the Olympics, Jowers said.
"We saw him come in and deal with the very complex situation with the Olympics, which dealt with everything from intense security after 9/11 to generating international and local support after the scandal."
Huntsman, who had been mentioned as a possible leader of the Olympics, had already served as U.S. ambassador to Singapore and negotiated trade agreements for the United States in Asia and Africa before being elected Utah's governor.
He stepped down soon after the start of his second term to become Democratic President Barack Obama's U.S. ambassador to China, a post he held until earlier this year, when he returned to a new home in Washington, D.C., and jumped into his first presidential race.
Huntsman's supporters say he's different than a typical CEO.
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