The gubernatorial candidate who said in 2002 that he opposed tax increases but would not sign a no-tax pledge, signed one when running for president five years later, boasting about it and criticizing his rivals for not doing so.
To Romney, these shifts were a natural evolution. To critics, they were political expediency to fit an increasingly conservative GOP.
Romney tasted defeat in his first campaign but found a new outlet for his management skills. He took over the floundering, scandal-ridden Salt Lake Olympic Games and is credited with turning them into a financial success.
Gillespie, his former aide, says Romney bucked up a demoralized staff, recruited people with Olympic experience, and tackled problems with an orderly management style that involved asking probing questions.
"When somebody says, 'Look, this is the way it's always done,' his first reaction is going to be, 'Not necessarily. Let's talk about why,'" she recalls. "There's a really intense challenging of the status quo."
Romney's revitalized image and accolades served as a springboard into the Massachusetts governor's chair, where even critics say he was good in a crisis.
Beth Myers, his then-chief of staff, describes Romney as someone who "wants the facts and figures but he wants to hear it from the smart people who know their stuff."
As governor, Romney began moving right on social issues. He announced, for instance, his opposition to abortion. At the same time, he started eyeing a bigger prize — the White House.
As head of the Republican Governors Association, Romney traveled the country, making connections, gaining exposure and distancing himself from blue-state Massachusetts.
But it was back in Massachusetts where he captured the national spotlight for his landmark universal health care law — a partial blueprint for Obama's plan. Both have an individual mandate that requires everyone to carry health insurance, an element that conservative Republicans denounce as Big Brother intervention.
Romney defends the law as "a state solution for a state problem" and vows to repeal Obama's plan.
That limited endorsement disappoints Joe Gruber, professor of economics at MIT who consulted on the Massachusetts health plan: "He's the hero of health care reform if he likes it or not," he says. "I hope 20 years from now ... he can sit back and appreciate what an amazing thing he did ... even if he feels now he has to run away from it."
A time 20 years from now, though, is not Romney's focus. He concentrates instead on the trail ahead and on the challenges raised by a string of contenders, one after another. Still, he cannot avoid questions about how he has changed and where he stands on this or that.
Always, he has a ready reply, as he did at a New Hampshire editorial board:
"I'm as consistent," he said, "as human beings can be."
AP researcher Rhonda Shafner contributed to this report.
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