Friends, though, paint a warm picture of a devoted husband and father (he and his wife, Ann, have five sons and 16 grandchildren), an approachable guy who enjoys "American Idol," the Beatles, the movie, "O Brother, Where Are Thou" — and a good laugh.
Cindy Gillespie, who worked with Romney at the 2002 Winter Olympics and was a top gubernatorial aide, recalls that one time a trooper traveling with the governor short-sheeted his hotel bed as a prank. Romney, realizing what had happened, wrote a bogus letter to himself on hotel stationery pretending to be the manager, apologizing and saying the maid had been fired. When the trooper found out, he was stunned. Only then did Romney reveal it was a joke.
Romney has a caring side, too, Gillespie says. Though they hadn't known each other long when they started working together at the Olympics, he called her every day when her father lapsed into a coma after being hospitalized for heart surgery.
"It meant my new boss was somebody who was truly concerned about me," she says. "All the talk you normally hear in the business world that family matters — it really did for him. ... Even in the middle of everything going on (with the Olympics) ... he took the time to listen."
Though friends and critics see Romney differently, both sides agree he learns from his mistakes. The uncertain Senate candidate became a more assured gubernatorial aspirant. The 2012 presidential contender is much smoother than the 2008 version.
At 64, Romney still looks like he could model for a Brooks Brothers catalog, though he's more J. Crew these days, wearing open-collar shirts and khakis. And other than touches of silver at the temples, he hasn't changed much since People magazine included him on its 50 Most Beautiful list in 2002.
With a reported wealth of between $190 million and $250 million, Romney has tried to connect with average voters, tweeting about the joys of flying Southwest Airlines and eating at Subway and Carl's Jr. — comments quickly lampooned in the blogosphere.
And when Romney, who has a $12 million beachfront home in LaJolla, Calif., criticized the president and said the country needs a tax policy to help the middle class — "the great 80 to 90 percent of us in this country" — comic-satirist Jon Stewart struck. He quipped that Romney "wouldn't be middle class at an OPEC meeting."
As a candidate, Romney follows a script: He casts himself as a problem-solver, lacing speeches with statistics and business terms. He quotes Ronald Reagan and uses phrases such as "gosh" and "heck." He pledges U.S. dominance with an "American century."
On the trail, Romney can be wooden and seemed to acknowledge his oratorical limitations when asked at a recent town hall meeting in Sioux City to identify his (and the GOP's) biggest weakness:
"One of the things my party needs to do better, and I'm sure I need to do better as well — something I learned from my first campaign — is to make sure we communicate our message clearly," he said. "Gosh darn it. We don't do a good job of that." Then addressing himself, he added: "'Come on, Mitt. Come on Republicans. Do a better job of communicating our message.''"
Willard "Mitt" Romney — named after his father's friend, J. Willard Marriott, the hotel magnate — grew up understanding the cross-pollination of politics and business.
His father, George Romney, was CEO of the now-defunct American Motors Corp. when Detroit was flourishing in the 1950s and early 1960s. He then served three terms as Michigan's governor. (His mother, Lenore, was an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate.)
As a young man, Mitt Romney saw close up how the campaign spotlight can be unforgiving, a single gaffe devastating. When the elder Romney was running for president in 1967, he faltered famously when he declared he'd originally supported the Vietnam War — he became an opponent — because of a "brainwashing" by the U.S military. He eventually dropped out.
Mitt Romney was raised in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills and attended Cranbrook, a private boys' school where he was known as a jokester, a solid student and a determined, if not natural, athlete.
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