Mitt Romney may be the frontrunner in the Republican race for a presidential candidate. But he's facing tough questions on the campaign trail about his successful venture capitalist career and his Mormon faith.
Tony Kimball has a succinct explanation for Mitt Romney's success on the Republican campaign trail. "He impressed people because he was competent," Kimball says.
The 72-year-old is sitting on one of several wooden chairs with rose-colored covers in the community room of the Mormon chapel in Belmont. The western Boston suburb was where Romney led Sunday School in the 1980s, first as bishop of his own congregation, and later as Boston "stake president."
The Republican presidential front-runner was just 30 years old and responsible for around a dozen Mormon communities around Boston, Kimball, who worked with Romney for a number of years, remembers. "Mitt was young when he was appointed 'stake president' but nobody complained because people respected him," Kimball says.
The young, good-looking Romney was already on his way to becoming a successful businessman. He attended a joint program at the Harvard Business and Law Schools in Boston. His strengths and business acumen were already becoming evident.
Indefatigable corporate manager
Working hard was never a problem for Romney. "There was a time when we hardly saw him as 'stake president,'" Tony Kimball says. "He was busy saving Bain & Co and they met at times for 20 hours a day."
In 1978, Romney began his corporate career at Bain & Co, a Boston-based corporate consultancy. He worked his way up to vice president. In 1984, he became a founding member of Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought up struggling companies, restructured them and sold them at a profit.
When the parent company ran into trouble, Romney was brought back in a firefighting role. He expended a huge amount of energy and time to save the company from 1990 to 1992. "Ann, Romney's wife, later said that most marriages would not have survived that," Tony Kimball says.
Romney's former colleague at Bain, Geoffrey Rehnert, also remembers him as a workaholic. "Working with Mitt was challenging, grueling, demanding...but very intellectually stimulating and never boring," Rehnert wrote in an email. "He never accepted status quo or convention as a constraint, he was always challenging us to find new and better ways to do things."
Romney was known as thorough and analytical who based his business decisions on hard facts and not on emotions. Those skills may have helped him in his role as a corporate manager. But on the campaign trail, he's often appeared aloof and stiff.
No regular Joe
By all accounts, Romney was a successful venture capitalist. He has claimed that Bain Capital has helped created over 100,000 jobs. But the businessman also turned a tidy profit when a company was broken up, sold and its employees dismissed. His corporate past has often come under fire during campaigning, at times from within his own party.
Romney has amassed a fortune from his time at Bain Capital in Boston. His tax returns for 2010, that he recently released, show his income amounted to nearly $22 million (16 million euros).
His personal wealth has also led to a few gaffes on the campaign trail. Romney recently mentioned that his wife, Ann had "a couple of Cadillacs." He's also spoken about friends who own NASCAR motor racing teams. It's a reminder to voters who have to tighten their belts in lean economic times that Romney is far from being a regular Joe.
Charity centers on Mormon Church
But Romney can also point to an impressive charitable giving record. In 2010 alone, he donated almost $3 million to charity. Around $1.5 million of that went to the charitable mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Mormons usually don't just invest a lot of time but also money in their church. They're meant to donate 10 percent of their incomes to the church. But Mitt Romney doesn't talk much about the issue, in line with most Mormons who don't usually wear their faith on their sleeve.
Mitt Romney's origins are far from poor. His father George Romney, a manager in the car industry, was the governor of Michigan from 1963 to1969. Romney was born on March 12, 1947 in Detroit, the former heart of America's auto-manufacturing industry. He grew up in a well-heeled neighborhood. He spent two years in France as a Mormon missionary and learned French.
No killer instinct
Romney's political ambitions became clear in 1994 when he ran as the Republican candidate in the US Senate election in Massachusetts against Democrat liberal icon Ted Kennedy.
The reason he failed then was because he lacked the killer instinct, says Ron Scott, who's written a biography called "Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and his Politics." "He was too much of a nice guy when he was younger that cost him (the victory)," Scott says, adding that that has changed.
That seems apparent. For weeks, Romney has been using the power of his multi-million dollar campaign machine to attack his rivals. When Newt Gingrich soared in the opinion polls in Florida after his victory in the primaries in South Carolina, Romney's team began a massive campaign with negative television spots against his competitors. The strategy paid off with Romney finally taking Florida with an emphatic 14 point lead.
Romney a flip-flopper?
It seems that Mitt Romney now relies heavily on negative advertizing in this campaign. In his own home town of Michigan, Romney had to fight hard for a narrow victory. He even has difficulties connecting with Republican voters.
Many remain skeptical of his public statements affirming conservative values. One of the reasons is that Romney has often expressed different views on the issues in the past. During his campaign against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, for instance, Romney was in favor of abortion though the stance clearly contradicts his Mormon faith.
Romney has rarely mentioned his faith in his political career. "I think his advisers told him to stay as far away from it as possible because the Mormon faith is still seen as strange," Ron Scott, who's a Mormon himself, says.
Scott says he regrets Romney's stance because it doesn't allow him to speak about those elements of his faith that would make him a better president such as the experience of advising people in despair during Romney's time as Bishop of a Mormon congregation.
Health care a huge hurdle
Romney may not have changed his faith but he has changed tack to cater to the views of the Republican conservative base. He now speaks out against abortion and President Barack Obama's healthcare reform. That's despite the fact that he spearheaded a similar law as governor of Massachusetts.
Brian Rosman, research director of the interest group "Health Care for All" in Boston still has the ticket for the celebrations of the signing of the Massachusetts healthcare bill on April 12, 2006. "He (Romney) signed it with great fanfare, that was in Faneuil Hall - the historic house where patriots debated the American revolution,” Rosman says. “There were pipers and drummers who played their instruments dressed in historic costumes."
Rick Santorum, former senator from Pennsylvania and Romney's rival in the Republican race, has used the Massachusetts law to attack Romney's credibility. Romney has no chance against President Obama because he can't credibly reject Obama's health care reform, Santorum has said.
Rosman remembers that back in 2006, Romney stood on a large stage during the signing of the law cheered by Democrats, Republicans, doctors, insurance companies and patients. Rosman says he fails to understand why Romney is now against the law at a federal level. "That appears so insincere, so lacking in integrity when he (Romney) is aware of the good things we've achieved with it here."
One of the things Romney did get right was the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City in 2002 which he turned into a financial success. His strengths in organizing and managing and "take-charge" attitude were on full show then. But he lacks the common touch. The services trade union SEIU which represents workers in the health and social sector is less enthusiastic about the former Massachusetts governor.
"The lawmakers had set aside 20 to 30 million dollars to slightly increase the wages of the workers," Cliff Cohn, personnel leader at SEIU whose office is located in Watertown, west of Boston, says. "But one of Governor Romney's last official acts in office was to veto the raise."
Swing to the right
Mitt Romney is strongly anchored in his faith. Every now and then, he pays a visit to the Mormon community chapel in Belmont in Boston. Tony Kimball says he spoke to him last Christmas.
Kimball, 72, is a retired professor of government and politics. He says he can't understand why Romney suddenly advocates extremely conservative values. Swing voters and liberals simply won't vote for Romney if he wins the Republican race and takes on President Obama, Kimball says. And even among Mormons, it seems, there are limits to loyalty.
Tony Kimball is sure of one thing if Romney does become the Republican presidential candidate. "He certainly won't get my vote," Kimball says.
Author: Christina Bergmann, Boston /sp
Editor: Rob Mudge