Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a GOP presidential candidate, packs donations into Thanksgiving boxes for the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program on Wednesday in Hiawatha, Iowa.

Mitt Romney is staking his campaign in large measure on his image as a managerial guru.

He has emphasized his advantage on this score on the stump, saying it derives from the data-driven, analysis-laden business practices he acquired in his years in the private sector — and which his aides say are evident in how he runs his campaign.

"What concerns me about Washington is that people have answers before they've gathered any data, done any analysis, solicited opinions from people who disagree," Romney said in an interview. "From the business world, you look at that and you say, 'You've got to be kidding."'

No governing from the gut for Romney, his aides say. This is a man who relishes "metrics," is always on the lookout for data to frame discussions and brings a devil's advocacy to every discussion, whether it focuses on policy formation or advertising.

"He challenges everything you first give him," said Alex Gage, Romney's director of strategy. "The worst thing to do is go into a meeting with him and say: 'Well, we think this is the best thing to do. Anybody disagree? No, no, we all agree.' That will be a red flag for him."

Even as Romney's advisers talk up his management skills, however, they are not forthcoming on some of the tougher decisions Romney has faced since entering the race, like how much of his own money to pour into his campaign, or how to deal with persistent accusations of flip-flopping. And many of the largest decisions are yet unmade, like if and when to give a major speech about his Mormon faith.

Any effort to cast Romney as a pragmatic, problem-solving politician must also take into account his partisan slide to the right since leaving the Massachusetts Statehouse.

"Prior to running for president, Mitt was not particularly partisan or ideological," said Eric A. Kriss, who worked with Romney at Bain Capital and later as the Massachusetts budget chief. "He was more likely to say, 'Show me the data."'

Political observers typically cite the Romney campaign as the best-organized operation among the Republican contenders.

Romney has bona fide management credentials, with joint MBA and law degrees from Harvard. His management approach is built on several core principles, he says, including picking the right team, demanding data, conducting thorough analyses and making sure to have ways to measure success or failure. He said he had developed the process over time in both the private and public sectors.

His aides said Romney had early on laid out broad expectations for his staff, including that the campaign follow a strict budget. Another expectation was measuring progress in every aspect of the campaign. Gage, a veteran of several previous presidential campaigns, said the Romney campaign required a greater level of "documentation" than others he had worked for.