Mitt Romney stepped onto the sprawling factory floor of the Giese Manufacturing plant in Dubuque, Iowa, to a crowd roaring with applause above the blaring country music. The media swarmed.
“A year from now I want to see a sign that says ‘Mitt is it’,” he said while standing on a makeshift stage in his blue, plaid shirt tucked neatly into his worn blue jeans.
Romney looked like your average Joe, rather than the multi-millionaire that he is.
Throughout the east coast businessman’s reign as governor of Massachusetts and through this year’s run for the Republican presidential nomination, he has earned both the respect of some and disdain of others. Followers find confidence in his robotic and mild-mannered demeanor, while critics are skeptical of his frequent shifts on policy stances and time spent in the private sector.
Abundant finances and powerful poll numbers enabled him to maintain equanimity even as his rivals ganged up on him.
Only occasionally did he let anyone crack it, like the time he and Texas Gov. Rick Perry, standing within arm reach of each other in the mid-October CNN debate.
“I’m speaking! I’m speaking! I’m speaking! I’m speaking!,” Romney yelled at Perry while putting his hand on the governor’s shoulder.
But as Perry faltered in the polls, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s surprising surge has left Romney behind by double digit percentage points in some polls. And again, Romney’s calm faltered when faced with tough questioning during Nov. 29 interview by Fox News Bret Baier. Baier said Romney later complained to him that the interview was “overly aggressive.”
And then there is the bare-knuckles political brawler. This Mitt Romney recently signed off on hard-hitting attacks ads against Barack Obama, while his supporters went on the offensive against Gingrich. Now, he’s drawn even with Gingrich in the latest polls, and ahead of Gingrich and Ron Paul in a Rasmussen Iowa poll earlier Thursday.
Romney and his campaign work like the well-organized operation that usually emerges from the type of campaign experience he and his supporters bring to the 2011-2012 presidential caucuses and primaries. This run for the presidency has been in the making ever since he lost the 2008 race for the Republican nomination. During that campaign, he won several primaries and caucuses but ultimately lost the party nomination to U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who subsequently lost the general election to then-Sen. Barack Obama from Illinois. Romney officially announced his candidacy for the up-coming election on June 2, 2011, in Stratham, N.H.
Since then, Romney has used his status as an establishment candidate, having done many years of campaigning for the Republican cause and grabbing big-name endorsements like New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican as well as a Tea Party favorite, and, most recently, Iowa’s largest circulating newspaper, the Des Moines Register.
The polished presidential contender was born Willard Mitt Romney on March 12, 1947, in Detroit, Mich., to Lenore LeFount Romney and three-term Michigan governor George W. Romney.
His father was elected governor of Michigan three times – 1962, 1964 and 1966, and in 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him to his 12-man cabinet as the first Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
In his childhood, Mitt Romney went to a prestigious all-boys academy, Cranbrook Academy, where he was known as an all-around popular person.
After graduating high school in 1965, he enrolled in Stanford University but left soon afterwards to pursue missionary work for the Church of Latter Day Saints in France, where he became fluent in French.
Romney returned to the U.S. in 1968 to enter Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, where we received a bachelor of science in economics. He later received his MBA at Harvard University.
Mitt married Ann Lois Davies on March 21, 1969, and they now have five boys together: Taggart, Matthew, Joshua, Benjamin and Craig.
Romney touts a résumé that includes governor of Massachusetts from 2003-2007, chairman of the Republican Governor’s Associations, founder of Bain Capital, a private equity firm, in 1984, chief executive officer of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics and the vice president of Bain & Co. from 1978-1984 and now Republican presidential contender.
The bumpy road
Despite his prior experience and respected father, Romney has faced strong opposition from opponents who note his affinity for changing his stance on issues from very early on in his campaigns for office.
In his 2002 gubernatorial run, Romney sought support from Massachusetts’s Planned Parenthood, but he now runs on a platform against taxpayer-funded abortions*. He also supported the controversial Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which allows for the protection of abortion clinics, access to the morning-after pill and late term abortions when the mother is at risk.
Carla Howell, one of his earliest political opponents, also questions Romney’s stances on issues.
Howell is a political activist and president of the Center for Small Government, ran against Romney in the Massachusetts gubernatorial elections in 2002 as a Libertarian.
“There’s not an ounce of fiscal conservatism in his body,” said Howell, who also says that Romney simply labeled taxes as “mandatory government fees” during his time as governor.
Howell said that Romney never mentioned his healthcare plan during his run for office, enacting the policy after being elected.
Religion and charities
Despite Romney changing policy stands, he Romney has not wavered on is his faith-Mormonism, and has contributed heavily to charities.
He has been a part of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints for his whole life, having held a cleric position and giving advice to younger members of the church. And with abundant finances, Romney gives large amounts of money to predominantly Mormon charities and to Brigham Young University.
Romney is also been given credit for as saving the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, giving over $1 million and taking no salary for three years.
In 1993, the Romney’s started a charity called the Ann D. and W. Mitt Romney Charitable Foundation, now known as the Tyler Charitable Foundation.
With Ann Romney suffering from multiple sclerosis, the family gives hefty donations to organizations that aim to combat the disease and aid in research for cystic fibrosis, cancer, epilepsy, Lou Gehrig’s Disease and AIDS.
Significant portions of Romney’s contributions are given directly to the Mormon Church in the form of tithes.
Tithing is a biblical practice and voluntary donation given to the church. In Mormonism, a tithe is a standard of the faith along with other religious values such as not smoking or drinking and not committing adultery. In the Mormon church, tithing requires members to give 10 percent of their income in order to be allowed in the temple.
“They are much more involved in charitable giving than people imagine,” said Kathleen Flake, an associate professor of American religious history at Vanderbilt University. She said Mormons also don’t pay their clergy.
Recently, Pastor Robert Jeffress of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, proclaimed the Mormon faith to be a cult, sparking a political discussion during the campaign over whether Mormons are Christians. Mormons, pointing to their beliefs about the biblical figure, Jesus, say they are Christians.
The Rick Perry campaign sought immediate damage control because of his previously close relationship with the Dallas pastor who introduced Perry at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., adding that Perry is a “genuine follower of Jesus Christ.” Various evangelical groups sponsored this event.
But the Massachusetts’s healthcare law that Romney signed when he was governor and his changing positions on key campaign issues has posed a plethora of problems for the GOP contender.
For example, in Dubuque, Romney said, “If I become president, by my first term I’ll cut $500 billion of federal spending.” He said the first program that he will cut is the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010. The act prohibits insurance companies from denying insurance to people with pre-existing health problems, will eventually require everyone to purchase health insurance if they don’t already have it but employ a sliding-scale subsidies to help certain individuals pay for it and create a regulated marketplace where people can buy insurance. A Supreme Court challenge to the law is pending.
But critics say such promises ring shallow because he supported a Massachusetts healthcare law, which also requires people to buy insurance, and President Barack Obama says the 2010 federal health care act, which Romney now derides, was modeled after the Massachusetts law.
Romney has also gotten into trouble on the immigration issue.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, his opponent in campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, insisted in a debate in October that Romney has employed illegal immigrants.
After a few contentious exchanges, Romney wrote off Perry’s remarks.
“This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, and I understand that, so you’re getting testy,” said Romney.
Despite the controversy of his state policies, religion and changing stances on issues, Romney has generated a solid following in both numbers and finances.
With an over $200 million net worth, the Romney campaign is more financially stable than some of his competing Republicans, like Perry whose salary as governor of Texas is about $150,000 per year.
Romney often flaunts the time he spent as a businessman and his experience in the private sector.
“I spent my time in business and in business, by the way, there’s no question you have to balance the budget,” said Romney, referring to his belief in a need to balance the federal budget.
Romney’s business experience comes from years at two private investing firms beginning with the Boston Consulting Group and moving to another consulting firm called Bain & Co., where he worked for 25 years, becoming a vice-president in 1978.
In 1984, Romney started Bain Capital, a private equity firm, and from which Romney has become a retired partner, still receiving income from the company but does not have a say in the operations.
During his 2008 run for the White House, Romney pledged to give his presidential salary of $400,000 per year to charity if he were to become president.
Back in Dubuque
As the caucus season heats up in Iowa, Romney told the crowd in Dubuque that someday the children of today’s generation will ask their parents how they survived the Obama administration.
Jacqueline Bargeman from Dubuque supports Romney and saw the event as an opportunity for the community to see a leading Republican contender.
“He had the points he wanted to make and he made them clearly,” said Bargeman who wants a candidate who will repeal the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, in order to get the economy back on track.
But some Iowans weren’t buying Romney’s appeal.
“Mitt makes so much money – why is he wearing blue jeans?” said Joel Pusateri from Dubuque, noting Romney’s multi-million dollar net worth.
Pusateri says that Romney is “more dangerous than Obama” because of his frequent changing of positions on policies and is still on the fence about which Republican will grab his vote in 2012, but he’s sure that it won’t be Romney.
“He’s whatever is the flavor of the week.”
Kenneth Oglespy from Dubuque agrees saying that he wants a candidate whose a straight shooter and is willing take a stance on issues.
(Dana Davidsen is a senior journalism major at the University of Iowa)