Evan Vucci, Associated Press
BOSTON — In the summer of 1996, Mitt Romney received a frantic report from one of his fellow executives at Bain Capital.
Robert Gay's 14-year-old daughter, Melissa, had gone missing after taking a train into New York City, Gay told Romney. Gay said he and his wife, Lynette, had contacted the police and were desperately trying to track down Melissa.
She might have become lost in an underworld rave party scene after attending a party on Randalls Island on the city's East River. Rave parties were typically all-night affairs punctuated by the use of the drug Ecstasy, which can induce euphoria or hallucinations. The Gays feared their daughter might be unable to contact home.
Romney stepped in and committed Bain's resources to help with the search.
"I said let's close the firm, let's close the company — we were in Boston — and let's all of us fly down to New York and try to find her," Romney recalled recently when ask about the incident at a rally in Ohio this month. "So we closed the business, we went home and packed our things."
The search ultimately led to a home in New Jersey where Melissa was found safe. Soon she was back with her family.
As Romney, now a Republican presidential candidate, explained it, his decision at Bain was what anyone would have done.
His recounting at the campaign event was one of the few times has spoken publicly about the matter.
But his political campaigns and allies have not hesitated to highlight the story at critical times as he has looked to sell himself to voters as a can-do leader and manager who takes charge in a crisis and gets results.
In this, his second presidential race, Romney's campaign has been built around the notion that the nation needs a president with deep experience in the private and public sectors. He has highlighted both his work as a businessman and his efforts turning around the financially troubled Salt Lake City Olympics. He has focused less on his four-year term as Massachusetts governor.
The message he is trying to convey is that he is just the type of president needed for a country in economic turmoil.
During the GOP nomination fight in 2008, which Arizona Sen. John McCain won, Romney's campaign ran a TV ad that featured an interview with Robert Gay, who credited Romney with helping rescue his daughter.
"My 14-year-old daughter had disappeared in New York City for three days. No one could find her. My business partner stepped forward to take charge. He closed the company and brought almost all our employees to New York. He said, 'I don't care how long it takes. We're going to find her.'" Gay said in the ad.
"He set up a command center and searched through the night. The man who helped save my daughter was Mitt Romney. Mitt's done a lot of things that people say are nearly impossible. But for me, the most important thing he's ever done is to help save my daughter."
Four years later, Romney tops the GOP field in the delegate count so far and is on pace to win the nomination. But he has struggled to convince Republican voters, who seem split over whether to demand ideological purity in their leaders, that he is the right nominee for the times.
Enter a new ad about Melissa's search. It's by Restore Our Future, a super political action committee run by former Romney advisers. The commercial features the same interview with Gay.
These days, Robert and Lynette Gay have had little to say about the massive search in the years since they retrieved their daughter.
"That was a long time ago and she's gotten on with her life," Lynette Gay told The Associated Press when reached by telephone last week.
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