Romney Gains Momentum As He Keeps On Running

News Profile

BOSTON--In October of his senior year in high school, U.S. Senate candidate W. Mitt Romney decided to try out for the cross country team.

In his first trial run, one Wednesday afternoon, he stunned veteran teammates by finishing among the top three.

"Romney, a cross country runner, we found a new star," recalls Colin H. John, Jr., Romney's classmate at Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. "All of the sudden he goes out and finishes ahead of the pack."

But three days later, at his first competitive meet, Romney's performance was far from stellar.

The whole school was watching the cross-country race because it coincided with half-time of a football game, John remembers 30 years later. And the finish line was on the track surrounding the football field.

"Over the hill comes the first person, and it's not Mitt. Then, still no Mitt," says John, now an attorney in Southfield, Michigan. "Finally, just as they're getting ready to start the third quarter of the game, the only person who hasn't finished is Mitt. He has just given everything he can give, but there ain't no more, and so he finally staggers into the Cranbrook oval."

Romney embarrassed himself that day because he hadn't trained enough to be successful, John says.

"He was loose as a goose when he ran on Wednesday but now his muscles were all tight and tense," he says.

Today, Romney is in a new race. But this time the prize is a U.S. Senate seat, and his opponent is seasoned incumbent and pillar of liberalism Sen. Edward M. Kennedy '54-'56 (D-Mass.).

Once again, Romney is playing the role of a rookie.

Just like his cross-country endeavor, Romney's political marathon had an auspicious start.

At the Republican party convention in May, Romney received the support of more than three quarters of the delegates. And in last month's primary, he earned more than 80% of the Republican vote and the right to challenge Kennedy.

But the Belmont resident hopes this race, and his political career, will not become a repeat of his short-lived cross country stardom.

The Early Years

Willard Mitt Romney was born in 1947 in Detroit, Mich., the youngest of four children, to American Motors executive George Romney and Lenore Romney.

"Mother didn't think she was going to have any other children," recalls G. Scott Romney, the candidate's older brother. "He was somewhat of a miracle baby."

Until he started Kindergarten, Romney went by the name "Billy," recalls the candidate's brother.

"But one day, he didn't want to be called 'Billy' for some reason," Scott Romney says. "He decided he was going to call himself 'Mitt."

Romney soon moved with his family from Detroit to Bloomfield Hills, a wealthy suburb northwest of the city.

Although George Romney worked long hours, Scott Romney says he and his brothers grew up in a very close-knit family.

"Dad was very busy when he was President of American Motors," he says. "But every summer Dad took me and Mitt on a fishing trip."

While Romney attended public elementary schools, after sixth grade he transferred to the prestigious Cranbrook preparatory school for his education.

"It would be safe to call it a typical prep school, like any other prep school in the East," says James N. Bailey '69, another of Romney's classmates.

Although many of his friends remember Romney for his decision-making, creativity and sense of humor, some say he did not excel in any one thing.

"He was more of an all-round kind of person then," Bailey says. "He was a good student; he was a decent athlete; he was a good leader, but there were other people that had higher offices."

On weekends Romney and his friends enjoyed cruising along Wood-ward Avenue, a major thoroughfare connecting Detroit and its suburbs.

Although he was raised in the Mormon Church--which preaches eschewing alcohol and caffeine--Romney enjoyed partying, say his friends.

And he never criticized any of his friends for taking a drink, they add.

"He said the Mormon church generally frowns upon [drinking]," John says. "But he wasn't publicly judgmental about it.

John says he never saw Romney drink, but he doubts his friend stayed completely dry throughout high school.

"I'm not saying he ever has [taken a drink]," he says. "I'd be a little surprised if he hadn't at some point in his life just to say he did it."

Entering Politics Early

Although Romney may not have realized it at the time, his political rivalry with Kennedy began 32 years ago when Romney was a high school freshman.

On Sunday February 11, 1962, the 16-year old Romney stole the spot-light from Kennedy, who was then a young, handsome likely candidate for the U.S. Senate.

On that day, Romney appeared in a photograph on the front page of the New York Times beside his father who had just announced his candidacy for Governor of Michigan.

While Romney smiled on the front page, a short story of Kennedy's Senatorial plans was buried deep within the paper.

That November, George Romney, a Republican, won his first of three terms as Michigan's Governor, and his son, then a high school sophomore, learned first-hand about the perks of public office--including instant fame.

"Isn't it neat we've got the governor's son going near us," Mitt's friends thought, John says.

Although Romney never flaunted his father's office, his friends say they enjoyed going to school with the Governor's son.

"It was nice to have the Governor come down and give us an address at the commencement," John recalls. "Occasionally, the governor had a box downtown at the Fisher Theater. A bunch of us sat in the governor's box."

For Romney, his father's position was a first glimpse into the workings of public office, including hobnobbing with Michigan's Republican elite--a skill which would come in handy later in Massachusetts.

The Candidate and His High School Sweetheart

But cocktail parties and cross-country races weren't the only thing keeping Romney busy in high school.

Everyone knew he would marry Ann Davies, his high school sweetheart, his friends say.

"They have very similar values. What you see is what you get with both of them," Bailey explains.

Despite their compatibility, John says the couple was never overly affectionate in public.

"They held hands or something like that," he remembers. "Did they go around with their hands all over each other at inappropriate times? I'd say no."

After his first year at Stanford University, Romney followed Mormon tradition and went on a two-and-a-half year mission to proselytize individuals in the south of France.

"When you're going to be away from your family for two years and you're still a teenager, sure you're nervous about that," says Scott Romney, reflecting on his own missionary experience in England. "Mitt left Ann behind. It was a major commitment to try to be of service."

Romney says his missionary experience enabled him to interact with people much less privileged than he.

"By virtue of the service that I've had the opportunity to give both in the church and outside it," Mitt told the Boston Globe earlier this year, "I've spent time every week with people of very modest means."

Romney returned from France in December, 1968. Three months later, he and Ann were married.

In order to be closer to his wife, Romney transferred to Brigham Young University and finished his undergraduate studies there.

But the summer before his senior year, he returned to Michigan once again to help his mother Lenore mount a campaign for the seat of Sen. Philip Hart (D-Mich.).

Although Lenore Romney lost the election, her son says this campaign experience taught him the differences between a state and national race.

Upon graduating, Romney decided to attend a joint program at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.

Although Bailey--also in the joint Harvard program--did not see Mitt often in school, he says his friend "had a reputation as being a very smart, very good student in the law school."

The educational experience brought Romney, his wife and the first of their five sons to Massachusetts, where the family has spent the last 23 years.

Joining Bain

In 1975, armed with three degrees, Romney had numerous career options--from starting a business to taking a high-priced desk job.

"It's a very tough choice to pick the entrepreneurial route," says Bailey, his fellow JD/MBA graduate. "People get offered very large amounts of money to do non-entrepreneurial things."

Romney eventually chose to enter a fledgling consulting business, Bain & Company.

In 1978, Romney became one of the company's vice presidents, and in 1984 he was chosen to head Bain Capital, Bain's new venture capital company.

Venture capital firms invest their own capital in potentially high-growth companies and actively participate in their management.

Romney then returned in 1989 to the financially-strapped Bain & Co. to engineer its massive restructuring.

While rebuilding Bain, Romney said he would resign if he laid anyone off.

Now, five years later in his campaign against Kennedy, Romney uses his pledge as an example of job-making skills.

In 1991, Romney again left consulting to return to head Bain Capital, and now the candidate says his projects at both companies have led to the creation of more than 10,000 jobs.

As an example, Romney points to his financing of Staples--a large chain of low-cost office supply stores--which now has more than 10,000 full-time and part-time employees.

Staples' founder Thomas G. Stemberg '71, currently the company's chair of the company's board, came to Romney with the idea that by centralizing purchases for many stores, Staples could provide office supplies at a much lower cost than previous office supply stores.

"If you look at [Staples] in any broader societal terms it was a huge idea in terms of helping medium-sized and smaller businesses compete effectively with businesses of all sizes," says Bailey, an investment consultant. "Staples has made office supplies hugely cheaper to small and medium sized businesses. In terms of social good, that is a huge accomplishment."

Stemberg says Romney's help was essential to helping his concept grow.

"Mitt Romney has been a big part of our success here," he says. "I have tremendous respect for his ability and integrity."

But owners of small-sized office supply stores have recently accused Romney of running them out of business because of Staples' volume pricing.

And others have insisted during the campaign that Romney has exaggerated his claims of job creation, charging that the Republican candidate has both destroyed jobs--by closing some factories in takeovers--and has created low-quality jobs in their place.

Staples, in particular, has been targeted for not providing health insurance to its part-time employees.

Bailey says such criticisms are not realistic because part-time employees in the private sector very rarely receive health insurance benefits.

"Most of this stuff that you see in the ads with regard to terrible things are realities in American business today that you have to deal with," says Bailey, a self-described Republican. "Full health insurance for someone who works 10 hours per week is an anti-employment measure."

On the Campaign Trail

Romney left his position at Bain Capital earlier this year to begin campaigning full-time, first in a primary against fellow Republicans and then in the general election against the state's senior Senator.

At first, the campaign had few problems, and Romney easily bested fellow entrepreneur John R. Lakian in last month's primary.

But now, the campaign faces accusations from Kennedy nearly every day and hurls counter-attacks against the Senator with the same speed.

At a recent speech to the League of United Latin American Citizens, Romney worked to spread his political message and make himself known as more than just the man running against Ted Kennedy.

As always, Romney displayed a distinct way of courting potential supporters:

Standing in the atrium at the Boston World Trade Center, the candidate appears professional and Republican, wearing a dark suit and conservative tie.

Flanked by his wife, who is also wearing a dark suit, and campaign staffers, Romney chats with some Hispanic-American entrepreneurs before the event.

During almost every conversation, Romney changes the topic to his business experiences. In a favorite anecdote, that he repeats numerous times over the evening, Romney tells voters his company has Central American connections.

He tells these potential supporters that he understands Hispanic concerns because one of his business partners is the former dean of a Costa Rican business school.

Romney also reminds the immigrants in the crowd that he, too, is not a Massachusetts native.

But like the Hispanic-Americans he has met, Romney says he feels a close connection to the state.

"My roots are here, too," he says.

People want to have their picture taken with Romney, who many believe may be the next Senator from Massachusetts. With his wife at his side, he graciously accepts, displaying a toothful grin.

After his speech, Romney shakes more hands but leaves before he has a chance to eat dinner.

Instead, his wife selects food off the buffet table and packs meals to go.

"I haven't been home for a meal in months," says Ann Romney. "We eat what we can at 10 o'clock at night, usually a dinner that's prepared."

On the campaign trail, Romney rarely has a chance to eat, except when he grabs a fast food meal. His favorite campaign food comes from Boston Chicken, says Eric Gedstad, a campaign spokesperson who accompanies Romney.

Despite their hectic campaign schedule, which often includes 15-hour days, the Romneys still have some time to spend with their five children and one daughter-in-law.

"We know this is short term--it's a pregnancy," Ann Romney says. "But we manage. We'll talk at night about where we've been."

The campaign is not just a family affair for Mitt and Ann Romney.

The candidate's father, former Governor Romney, now 85 years old, has returned to the political scene to help his son.

"He does full days," Gedstad says. It's the Economy Again, Stupid.

Because of the large number of character attacks volleyed by both Kennedy and Romney, neither candidate has spent much of the campaign discussing substantive policy issues.

Romney admits people do not understand his views as well as Kennedy's.

"I'm not as well defined in people's minds," Romney said in an interview with The Crimson last week. "It's harder for people to know my views."

As a Senator, Romney says his primary responsibility will be the creation of new jobs.

The candidate says his experience in the business community makes him an expert in job creation, which he says will decrease crime and lengthen students' stays in schools.

"We'll see more kids stay in school because they'll see better jobs after school," he says. "Even if we're very tough, we will not solve the crime problem until we get to the root of the problem--more good jobs."

He says his experience in the private sector has taught him that an increase in the national capital stock is necessary for job creation and economic growth.

Romney insists the nation will be successful in the long term only if government policies help the economy grow.

"We've been losing a massive share of our country's capital to fuel the growth of government," Romney says.

Consequently, Romney has proposed two measures to increase the national capital stock both in the short run and in the long run--balancing the budget and creating personal savings accounts.

"We first have to get a budget in balance before we may have substantial tax cuts," he says. "A middle class savings account will generate more economic growth and will not reduce revenue to government."

Romney concedes the economy has been growing recently but insists that President Clinton's proposals have not worked well enough.

"The American public is a great deal more intelligent than the politicians give it credit for," he says. "The American public recognizes that there are cycles. [During this economic recovery] we keep seeing layoffs."

But the candidate says he has not yet made a decision on whether to remove the antitrust exemption granted to Major League Baseball.

The Horse Race

Despite Romney's lack of political experience, many recent polls have placed him in a statistical dead heat with Kennedy.

Many analysts say he has succeeded so far not on his own merits but because of voter antipathy toward Kennedy and other Democratic incumbents and the relative strength of Governor William F. Weld '66, a popular Republican.

"Since Weld is doing so well, there might be some coat tail effects for Mitt Romney," says Paul Y. Watanabe, a professor of political science at University of Massachusetts-Boston.

But Gedstad insists Romney's character and ideology have led to his success so far.

"Most of Mitt's success is Mitt himself," Gedstad says. "You can't put nothing up against something."

And Romney says stances on the issues will propel him to victory in November.

"There are 30% of the population for whom there's a personal issue, and there are 30% of the voters who love Ted Kennedy and will vote for him no matter what," says the Republican. "The rest of the voters in the middle look to the issues--jobs and taxes."

If he realizes he cannot afford to coast into the big race--as he did thirty years ago--Romney may have more success in politics than in cross-country running.Courtesy of Associated PressW. MITT ROMNEY was 16 years old when his father GEORGE ROMNEY won his first of three terms as Michigan's Governor. His mother LENORE ROMNEY, pictured above, also ran for public office.