Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mit Romney to the Rescue (News Max ) Mit Romney's Got the Right Stuff for 2008..

Romney to the Rescue

Mitt Romney's Got the
Right Stuff for 2008

NewsMax Magazine has just released its April 2007 cover story. Please take a moment to read Ronald Kessler's exclusive story on the former Massachusetts governor. Also check out our FREE offer for our Romney edition with a special gift — Click Here Now.

By Ronald Kessler

Mitt Romney was faced with a crisis in July 1996. The 14-year-old daughter of Robert Gay, a partner in Romney's new venture capital firm, Bain Capital, had disappeared. As it turned out, she had attended a rave party in New York City and had become high on ecstasy. Three days later, her distraught father had no idea where she was.

Romney took immediate action. He closed down the entire firm and asked all 30 partners and employees to fly to New York to try to find Gay's daughter.

Romney set up a command center in a conference room at the LaGuardia Marriott just outside Manhattan. He hired a private detective firm to assist with the search and established a toll-free number for tips, coordinating the effort with the New York City Police Department, but he still wasn't satisfied. He raced through his Rolodex and called everyone Bain did business with in New York. He asked them to help his company find their friend's missing daughter.

The company's accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and its law firm, put up posters on street poles with a photo of the missing teenager. Cashiers at Duane Reade Pharmacies, which was owned by Bain Capital, put fliers in the bag of each shopper.

Romney and others from the Bain Capital posse trudged through every part of New York, even scouring Central Park, and talked with everyone they could - prostitutes, drug addicts - anyone who may have seen her. They also made rounds at the local nightclubs at 3 a.m., hoping someone somewhere could identify her.

The Life and Times of Willard Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney's life has taken a number of twists and turns on the road to his presidential candidacy.

1947: Willard Mitt Romney born in Detroit on March 12. His middle name is the nickname of an NFL player.

1965: Meets 15-year-old Ann Davies at a party. They would wed four years later.

1968: Nearly killed in an auto accident while serving as a Mormon missionary in France.

1971: Graduates from Brigham Young University at the top of his class.

1975: Graduates from a joint program at Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School.

1978: Named vice president of management consulting firm Bain & Co.

1984: Founds Bain Capital, a venture capital firm.

1990: Returns to Bain & Co. as interim CEO.

1994: Runs unsuccessfully for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts; makes statements in support of abortion and gay rights that will later come back to haunt him.

1998: Wife Ann diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

1999: Takes over the debt-ridden 2002 Winter Olympics; goes on to spearhead turnaround of the Salt Lake Olympics Organizing Committee.

2002: Elected governor of Massachusetts with 50 percent of the vote.

2003: Pushes for a constitutional amendment in Massachusetts that would outlaw gay marriage.

2004: Publishes the book Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games.

2005: Elected chairman of the Republican Governors Association on Dec. 2.

2005: On Dec. 14, announces that he will not seek re-election as governor.

2007: On Jan. 8, raises $6.5 million in a single day for his presidential exploratory committee.

2007: Formally announces his candidacy for the White House at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. on Feb. 13.

The same day the Romney team came to New York, the hunt made the evening news. Television cameras showed photos of the girl and video of investment banker types prowling through Central Park.

The next day, a teenage boy she was with phoned in. He asked if there was a reward. But the boy got nervous and quickly hung up. Luckily, the police traced the call to a home in Montville Township, N.J.

Gay's daughter, when they found her in the basement of that home, was shivering through detox after a massive dose of ecstasy. Doctors later told Gay that he was indeed fortunate - his daughter probably would not have lasted another day.

"It was the most amazing thing, and I'll never forget this to the day I die," Gay says, adding of Romney's intervention, "I'm not sure we would have gotten her back without him."

It is often during a crisis that we gain insight into a person's real character. Romney's action demonstrated leadership, loyalty, and selflessness - attributes that Americans just might like to see in a president of the United States.

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Reaganesque Demeanor

People say that Mitt Romney lights up a room. But there are all kinds of ways to light up a room - fluorescent, neon, sunlight, strobe. Romney alternates between sparkle and a warm, steady glow. He is not in your face. He is low-key, self-assured, and self-contained.

That could be a metaphor for Romney's candidacy. When the subject of the 2008 presidential election comes up, Republicans talk about the prospects of the obvious front-runners, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But they often end the conversation by saying, "You know, I really like Mitt Romney."

The fact that Massachusetts, where only 13 percent of registered voters are Republicans, could elect Romney governor by a five-point margin (50 percent versus 45 percent for his Democratic opponent) underscores his popularity among Republicans and Democrats alike.

In the coming months, Americans will be focusing on the candidates - and most of their initial impressions will be based on how the candidates come across on TV. In this media-driven age, Romney begins with a decisive advantage.

First, he has sensational good looks. People magazine named him one of the 50 most beautiful people in America. Standing 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Romney has jet-black hair, graying naturally at the temples. Women - who will play a critical role in this coming election - have a word for him: hot.

But it's more than good looks. In an hour-long NewsMax interview at Romney's Boston headquarters, the candidate is Reaganesque: a man with a sunny, positive disposition. On his desk he has a desk plate that states "America Is Never Stuck."

Sounding like a television character from the 1950s, he is not self-conscious about saying "gosh" or "my goodness."

Romney speaks with the effortless delivery of the best news anchors, making the 60-year-old "the un-Bush," according to Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Similar to Bush, Romney has had a successful business career that made him a multimillionaire.

While running for the Senate in 1994, Romney filed a disclosure statement showing assets of $16 million to $25 million. In 1992 and 1993, he collected income of $6.8 million, including fees as a director of Staples and Marriott.

If elected president, he will have to disclose his tax returns but not his assets. He will not say how much he is worth today, but his net worth is likely well into the tens of millions.

"I'll have to ask my wife how much she's worth," Romney jokes.

With looks, charisma, money, and family all working for him, can anything hold Romney back?

Perhaps the lurking problem for him is the Mormon thing - "Mitt the Mormon," as Romney sardonically refers to the issue.

Despite the media fixation on his religion, it's difficult to find national evangelical leaders who openly oppose Romney on religious grounds. Not so liberal pundits.

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, the online magazine owned by the Washington Post Co., had no compunctions about writing, "Romney's religion will become an issue with moderate and secular voters - and rightly so."

He added, "Objecting to someone because of his religious beliefs is not the same thing as prejudice based on religious heritage, race, or gender." If so, Weisberg's view would open the door to anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, or any other bias based on religion.

Religion and Responsibility

Ann Romney:
The Mayor's Daughter Is Advocate for Kids

The first sentence of Ann Romney's official campaign biography makes her priorities clear: "Ann Romney places primary importance on her role as a wife, a mother, and a grandmother." Yet by no means is she notable for her domestic accomplishments alone:

Residence: Belmont, Mass.

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in French, from Brigham Young University.

Notable Accomplishments:

  • Won the MS Society's Inspiration Award, for raising public awareness about Multiple Sclerosis.

  • Helped develop the Right To Play Program (formerly Olympic Aid), an international program that uses sport and play as a way to help the world's most disadvantaged children.

  • Recipient of the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award from Operation Kids.

  • A dedicated equestrian, she won the Gold Medal (Grand Prix level) from the U.S. Dressage Federation last year and the Silver Medal in 2005.

    Charitable Activities: Board Member, New England Chapter of the MS Society; Governor's Liaison, White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives; former board member, United Way of Massachusetts Bay; supporter of equine therapy programs for physically challenged kids; former board member, Massachusetts' Children's Trust Fund; former director of Best Friends, which gives adolescent, inner-city girls educational and community-service opportunities.

    Primary Policy Interest: Improving the welfare of children. She participates in various programs to help children, including the annual Scholastic Reading event, as well as organizations such as Partners for Youth with Disabilities, the American Red Cross, the Boston Ten Point Coalition, and the Perkins School for the Blind. Religion: Raised an Episcopalian, she converted to Mormonism.

    Early Years: Ann Davies was raised in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and her father was the town's mayor. She dated Mitt Romney when she was a senior at Kings-wood School.

    Marriage: "I didn't want to be anywhere else but with Ann," Mitt Romney says. "I wanted to be with her all the time and couldn't imagine being anywhere else besides being with her. And so, at the senior prom, as we danced a little bit, we went outside of the school and I turned to her and said, 'Ann, would you marry me?' And she said 'Yes.'" The couple was married on March 21, 1969.

    Favorite Pastimes: Skiing and horseback riding. She credits her interaction with horses for helping her to overcome the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis she received just before Thanksgiving 1998.

    Family: The Romneys have five sons, five daughters-in-law, and 10 grandchildren.


  • The media love to depict Mitt Romney as having come from privilege, and that is certainly true. His father was George W. Romney, who was chairman of American Motors Corp.

    George Romney went on to serve three terms as governor of Michigan and in 1968, he unsuccessfully sought the Republican nomination for president. He then became secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Nixon.

    Born on March 12, 1947, Willard Mitt Romney was named Willard for his father's friend J. Willard Marriott, a fellow Mormon who started what is now Marriott International with a nine-seat A&W Root Beer stand in Washington, D.C. From kindergarten on, Mitt preferred to be called by his middle name, which was the nickname of his father's cousin Milton, who played for the NFL's Chicago Bears in the 1920s.

    The Romneys lived in the upscale suburb of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where Mitt attended the private Cranbrook School. He spent summers with his family in a vacation home on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada.

    However, if the family was financially set, it had little impact on Mitt's upbringing. Like most other kids, he had summer jobs. His sister Jane, an actress in Beverly Hills, remembers that she was allowed to buy only one new dress a year.

    "I always hated the word 'privileged' and I never thought we were," she says. "My dad grew up with nothing. His father went bankrupt twice when my father was a kid."

    George Romney died on July 26, 1995, at the age of 88. He imparted deep values to his family, values that the Mormon Church emphasizes - strong families, honesty, giving to charity, respect for human life, hard work, and clean living.

    Religion was central to young Mitt's upbringing.

    "The Mormon church is very much about service, because we don't have a paid ministry," Jane Romney says. "So everybody pitches in. Everybody gets called to serve in some way."

    When Mitt Romney was a senior in high school, he met Ann Davies, the attractive daughter of the mayor of Bloomfield Hills. Davies attended Kingswood School, the sister school of Cranbrook. She and Romney came to the party with dates but left together. Soon they were going steady. She was 15 and he was 18.

    Romney went off to Stanford, where he and Davies continued to see each other. After his freshman year, Romney left for France to begin a 30-month stint as a Mormon missionary, just as his father and Marriott had done. Romney lived in a seedy hotel in Le Havre.

    Tragedy Strikes

    In the summer of 1968, 21-year-old Romney was driving a Citro├źn in the rain on a mountainous road near Bordeaux with five other missionaries. As they rounded a curve, a Mercedes, possibly passing another car, veered over the median. The Mercedes, traveling at 70 mph, slammed almost head-on into Romney's car. Viola Anderson, the wife of his mission president, suffered crushed lungs and died. Romney was thrown from the car.

    "He was unconscious from a blow to the head," Jane Romney says.

    A police officer who came on the scene thought Romney was dead. On his passport, he wrote in pencil, "Il est mort" ("he is dead"). Fortunately, Romney had suffered only a broken arm.

    While Romney was in France, Davies, an Episcopalian, decided to convert to Mormonism. She began attending Brigham Young University, which is affiliated with the Mormon church. Upon his return, Romney transferred to the school as a sophomore to be with her.

    They were married on March 21, 1969. She was 19 and he was 22.

    An English major, Romney graduated in 1971 with a 3.97 grade-point average. Because he ranked at the top of his class in the College of Humanities, he was chosen to speak on graduation day.

    After a series of student and missionary deferments, Romney became available for military service in 1970. He drew a 300 in the draft lottery, but no man who had a number of 196 or higher was called from that particular drawing.

    Mitt decided to attend Harvard Business School, but his father thought he should obtain a law degree, so he enrolled in a joint program at Harvard Law School. In 1975, he graduated from Harvard Law cum laude and from Harvard Business School, where he was named a Baker Scholar and was in the top 5 percent of his class. One of his classmates at Harvard Business School was George W. Bush.

    The Romneys eventually settled in Belmont, Mass., a suburb of Boston that adjoins Cambridge. They own a Colonial-style home on 2.4 acres of land on Marsh Street. The home is worth $3.3 million.

    The Romneys have five sons - Taggart, Matt, Josh, Benjamin, and Craig.

    Convinced that being a consultant would prepare him to be a top manager, Romney joined Boston Consulting Group. In 1978, Bain & Co., another management consulting company, lured him away and named him vice president. His colleagues included future eBay CEO Meg Whitman.

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    Business Acumen

    While he was successful, Romney's role of recommending strategy rather than implementing it frustrated him. He was about to join a Chicago corporation when William Bain, the founder of Bain & Co., persuaded him to start a sister company where Romney would have operational control.

    After raising $37 million in startup funds, Romney founded Bain Capital, a venture capital firm, in 1984. For the most part, the company looked for troubled companies that had good potential if management was improved.

    Romney had an eye for identifying future success. Notable was Romney's investment in Staples, which had not yet opened its first office supply store. Thomas G. Stemberg, its founder, told Bain Capital that companies spent more on office supplies than they realized. He also cited the growing number of self-employed people who work at home and would patronize a discount stationery store.

    Romney decided he would test Stemberg's claim himself.

    "He had his associates do a survey on how much people were spending on office supplies," Stemberg tells NewsMax. "They'd call people and ask for the office manager and ask what they spend. They thought they were spending $200 an employee."

    That was a fifth of what Stemberg claimed they were spending, and Romney told him that.

    "Mitt then went back and actually had his guys check the invoices as well, and they found out I was right," Stemberg says, noting Romney's legendary attention to detail.

    Romney agreed to put $600,000 of Bain Capital money into the new venture. "He made eight times his money in three years," Stemberg says.

    Bain Capital went on to help launch or acquire Domino's Pizza, Sealy, Brookstone, and The Sports Authority. Each time Romney looked into an opportunity, he submerged himself in data, analyzed the business, and then was willing to take risks if his instincts told him he was on the right track.

    Because of these and other successful investments, Bain Capital now manages $40 billion.

    By 1990, Bain & Co., the mother ship, was in dire straits because of excess debt. Founder William Bain asked Romney to return to the company as interim CEO to straighten things out.

    Romney tightened expenses, renegotiated loans, and improved morale. He returned the company to profitability within a year before returning to lead Bain Capital.

    In 1994, Romney decided to run for the Senate against Democrat Ted Kennedy. It was an audacious move, and Romney spent $6.1 million of his own money on the campaign. He felt liberal social programs of the 1960s and 1970s had created a permanent underclass and fostered poverty rather than eliminating it.

    Romney managed to win 41 percent of the votes to Kennedy's 58 percent. Generally, that's not a good showing, but it was remarkable considering he was running as a Republican in a staunchly liberal state - against a Kennedy, no less.

    In his effort to unseat Kennedy, Romney campaigned hard to win independent voters. But now some of his campaign statements have come back to haunt him as he runs nationally.

    In December 2006, Bay Windows, a Boston-based gay and lesbian newspaper, republished excerpts from an interview it did with Romney in which he stated that the gay and lesbian community "needs more support from the Republican Party" and that it should be up to the states to decide whether to allow same-sex marriage.

    A letter he wrote to a pro-gay organization also surfaced, in which Romney said he supported "full equality for America's gay and lesbian citizens."

    Sanctity of Marriage

    Mitt with wife Ann and
    their children

    When Romney made the comments in 1994, gay marriage had not yet become a serious issue. But in 2003, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in a 4-3 decision, ruled that marriage in the commonwealth would no longer be limited to unions between men and women, Romney pushed for an amendment to the state constitution that would outlaw gay marriage.

    In a recent interview in his corner office at his campaign headquarters, Romney sticks by his position condemning discrimination against gays and lesbians.

    "I can tell you this, which is I believe gay individuals should enjoy tolerance and respect," Romney says. "They should have equal opportunities in housing and employment. We shouldn't discriminate against people based upon their sexual preference or orientation."

    Romney's position is the same one staked out by President Bush.

    "At the same time, I believe that marriage should be reserved for a relationship between one man and one woman. For me, that's not a matter of discrimination," Romney adds.

    He also supports Bush's effort to ban gay marriage by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution - which separates him from Giuliani and McCain, who oppose such a change.

    Another potentially damaging piece of baggage from the 1994 campaign is his comment about abortion made during a debate with Kennedy. Romney said, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, we should sustain and support it."

    Romney now says that, like President Reagan, he has changed his views and position on abortion.

    During the debate over stem-cell research, Romney met with experts from Harvard at his State House office.

    "It was during that discussion, which related to something called embryo farming, which is taking donor sperm and donor eggs, creating embryos, experimenting on them and then destroying them in 14 days, that it came home very forcefully to me that the Roe v. Wade mentality had cheapened the respect for human life in this country," Romney says. "And for that reason, I made it very clear that I am pro-life."

    The switch has made some social conservatives question Romney's sincerity. For example, John Haskins, associate director of the Parents' Rights Coalition, brands Romney a "placebo-conservative." Others see his switch as a plus, however.

    "He feels passionately that the value of human life begins at conception," says South Carolina state Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican who supports Romney. "The idea that he might have changed his mind [on Roe v. Wade] is very appealing to me, because we're not going to win that debate unless people change their minds and think it through."

    Romney has vetoed bills that authorized embryo farming, therapeutic cloning, and access to emergency contraception without parental consent. He is a critic of liberal judges who legislate from the bench, and he says he would like to see the court return the abortion issue to the people to decide.

    "President Bush has done a fine job in bringing to the Supreme Court Justice [John] Roberts and Justice [Sam] Alito," Romney says. "Those are exactly the kind of individuals you'd hope would come to the bench."

    Olympics Hero

    Romney saved the 2002 Winter
    Olympics from bankruptcy

    In 1998, Utah state leaders approached Romney about taking over the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Olympics. More than $1 million in bribes had been paid to members of the International Olympic Committee organizers. Before the scandal erupted, the Salt Lake Olympics Organizing Committee (SLOC) had a projected shortfall of $397 million.

    Romney accepted the position and asked Fraser Bullock, one of the seven original partners of Bain Capital, to become his chief operating officer.

    Romney traveled all over the world to gather support, as he cut back on SLOC expenses. Without foundation, Woody Paige, a Denver Post columnist, blasted the Winter Olympics as a "massive Mormon marketing scheme."

    With Romney at the helm, the games ended with a surplus of $56 million. The surplus money went to fund future Olympics.

    It was during his busy days guiding the Olympics that Romney received a call from Barbara Anderson, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Limited Taxation.

    "I know you're busy with the Olympics right now," said the message she left on his answering machine, "but when you get back please save the commonwealth."

    It was Anderson's way of telling him she wanted him to run for governor.

    "There was no one else on the horizon, and with the legislature almost entirely Democratic, we felt it was necessary to have a grown-up in the corner office," she says.

    Erasing the Deficit

    With the Olympics success under his belt, Romney ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 on a platform of fiscal conservatism, promising to erase the state's $3 billion deficit.

    As the new governor, Romney consolidated state agencies, cut employees, and closed what he called loopholes in the corporate tax code. He also tackled the most difficult public policy issue of all, health insurance.

    With input from the Heritage Foundation, Romney came up with a way to provide universal health insurance by requiring that everyone buy coverage, just as drivers are required to buy car insurance. If they don't, they lose their personal exemption on their state income taxes and part of their state tax refund. The idea was that in a reformed marketplace, everyone has the responsibility to have health insurance - no more free riders.

    For those who cannot afford coverage, Romney cobbled together funds from Medicaid and the state's free-care pool to make sure everyone is covered.

    By merging individual and group plans, Romney covered more healthy individuals, lowering prices.

    Of course, there are plenty of skeptics.

    "I am very pessimistic that it will work," says Merrill Matthews Jr., director of the nonprofit Council for Affordable Health Insurance, based in Alexandria, Va. Matthews says employers might drop coverage if the state has a program, thereby increasing the number of uninsured. He also questions whether insurers will offer coverage at competitive rates.

    Over time, the efficiencies Romney imposed on the health-care delivery system are expected to offset the additional $200 million needed from the state budget to finance the plan.

    Romney likes to contrast his health-care plan with the one proposed by Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y. "My plan is based on personal responsibility and allowing the free market to work in a more effective manner," he says. "Her approach was to build a large government bureaucracy and provide more controls to help the health-care system work."

    He adds with a smile: "Perhaps the biggest difference between our two plans was that mine got passed, and hers didn't."

    States such as Iowa, California, and New Jersey are looking into adopting the Massachusetts approach, and Bush is pushing other states to look into it. To conservatives who bristle at the idea of an imposed plan, Romney says, "The key factor that some of my libertarian friends forget is that today, everybody who doesn't have insurance is getting free coverage from government."

    As governor, Romney did not go unscathed in the heavily Democratic state of Massachusetts.

    Democrats like Massachusetts Senate President Robert E. Travaglini criticized Romney for opposing state funding of stem-cell research. Travaglini says Romney took conservative stands in order to improve his chances of winning the GOP nomination for president.

    "He started running for president the day he was elected to office," echoes Philip W. Johnson, chairman of the state Democratic Party.

    House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi assailed Romney for failing to deliver on his promise that he would attract new jobs to the state. In fact, while Romney was in office, the unemployment rate fell from 5.7 percent to 4.9 percent.

    Romney wasn't able to accomplish all that he hoped, due to opposition from the overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. For example, Romney discovered that collecting tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike cost 30 cents for every $1 collected, in part because the toll collectors' union contract, which gives the collectors an average $56,300 a year in wages plus $9,880 in benefits. The Massachusetts legislature did not want to take on the union and lose a source of political patronage, however.

    Romney's bottom line in Massachusetts: He erased the budget deficit he inherited when he took over, just as he'd done with the Olympics.

    When Romney left office on Jan. 4, 2006, the Bay State had a balanced budget plus a "rainy day fund" - all without ever raising taxes.

    The Mormon Factor

    On Oct. 26, 2006, Romney met with 15 evangelical leaders at his home in Belmont. The meeting was set up by Mark DeMoss, son of the late billionaire Arthur DeMoss. A public relations consultant, DeMoss represents many evangelicals. The attendees included Gary Bauer, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and the pastors from several evangelical megachurches, such as Paula White of Without Walls International Church, based in Tampa, Fla.

    "Our discussion was open and frank," says Richard Land, who heads the policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention.

    "Evangelicals know that they're not electing a theologian in chief, but a commander in chief. If they agree with Romney on social issues, his Mormonism won't be a hindrance, especially if he's the only viable social conservative in the mix," he says.

    Says Falwell: "There's no question that there are strong feelings about Mormonism. But we're not electing a Sunday school teacher, we're electing a president. I do not believe [Romney's] church affiliation will hinder his being a viable candidate among evangelicals." Mormons are fiscally and socially conservative, and 95 percent of them voted for Bush in the last election. Mormons consider themselves Christians, but many evangelicals disagree. For one thing, Mormons view Jesus Christ, the "Heavenly Father," and the Holy Spirit as three separate beings. They also believe Jesus visited North America after the resurrection.

    In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention lists the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons - under "Cults and Sects."

    "The term 'Christian' means different things to different people," Romney says. "And so I don't try and describe my faith in terms of categories. Instead I tell them what I believe. And I believe in God. I believe in marriage. I believe in family. I believe in helping people, in service and compassion. I believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God and is my savior.

    "But there are people of other faiths who don't believe that, and that's of course their right. But I don't try and describe my faith other than in terms of the fact that it has made me a better person than I would have been, and it has made my kids better than they would have been."

    Of course, any religious beliefs sound strange to those who are not familiar with them. What matters most, Romney argues, is not his religious beliefs but his agenda for America.

    Political Priorities

    Romney emphasizes four priorities if elected president: defeating the jihadists, competing with Asia, stopping runaway spending, and affirming America's culture and values.

    In his NewsMax interview, Romney says he wants to see more money devoted to stopping the next terrorist plot through additional funding for the FBI and CIA. In running the Olympics, he became heavily involved in security issues to make the event safe, says David M. Tubbs, a former FBI agent who was in charge of security at the games.

    "Fundamentally, the most important thing you can do to secure this homeland is to keep a bomb from going off," Romney points out. "And the only way you can do that effectively is through intelligence work and counterterrorism. And that means more FBI agents, more careful screening, more tracking of people who represent potential threats."

    The FBI has only about 4,000 agents working counterterrorism, compared to New York City's 40,000 police officers.

    Romney also favors a tougher immigration policy, investing in technology, extending health insurance to all Americans, achieving energy independence, and improving education by measuring progress and "making teaching a true profession."

    He has staked out more conservative positions than Giuliani and McCain on immigration policy and abortion. As governor, he decided that 30 state troopers should be trained to arrest illegal immigrants in the state.

    On another bedrock issue for conservatives, he believes McCain was on the wrong side. "He voted against the Bush tax cuts," Romney points out. "I was in favor of the Bush tax cuts."

    While Romney has generally supported Bush, he criticizes his creation of the Medicare drug prescription benefit without finding ways to pay for it.

    Promising to build "a new American dream," Romney formally announced his candidacy on Feb. 13 at the Henry Ford Museum in his home state of Michigan. He cast himself as an optimistic and forward-thinking Washington outsider with the experience and vision to lead the country into a new age.

    With former Virginia Sen. George Allen out of the race, Romney stands as the clear conservative alternative to McCain and Giuliani. Overwhelmingly, Republican insiders believe that Giuliani cannot win the nomination because of his liberal stance on social issues like abortion and gays, and that McCain will never excite the party's base.

    'Spectacular Candidate'

    In the make-or-break caucus state of Iowa, a majority of Republican county chairmen who responded to queries from Roll Call in January said the one presidential candidate who is exciting the base is Romney.

    Romney's fans range from Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, to Ann Coulter, to talk-show host Laura Ingraham. While governor of Florida, Jeb Bush gave his blessing to key staffers to migrate to the Romney camp.

    Grover Norquist notes that Romney was the first major candidate to sign Americans for Tax Reform's pledge to oppose any effort to raise marginal income tax rates. Norquist says Romney is moving to "place himself dead center of the Reagan coalition." If he succeeds, Norquist says,"He will be the strongest candidate for the nomination."

    When asked which Republican candidate she fears the most, Donna Brazile - who managed Al Gore's 2000 presidential campaign - replies, "Mitt Romney." Asked whether Romney's religion will hurt him, Ted Kennedy said recently, "The answer is no. We've moved on. That died with my brother Jack."

    Romney is "a spectacular candidate," says Republican strategist Mary Matalin, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney. "He is methodical, and he's definitely got the happy warrior thing. He's substantive, and he's got executive skills. And he's 21st century, too." Romney's Mormon religion will turn out to be a plus, she says, because people "like that have a source of strength."

    In addition to his strong base among influential Mormons, Romney can tap into his immense business network for the race that counts in the primaries: raising money. By the end of last December, political action committees affiliated with Romney had raised $8.75 million.

    In one day, Jan. 8, Romney raised another $6.5 million for his exploratory committee by enlisting contacts such as Whitman of eBay. The effort was dubbed the "National Call Day" and employed a telemarketing operation armed with new software designed exclusively for the Romney campaign.

    Romney says that while he has a great deal of respect for Sen. McCain and former mayor Giuliani, there are major differences between them.

    Unlike McCain and Giuliani, Romney says. "I have worked in the world of employers and employees for all of my career. I understand what makes us more competitive as a nation, what makes us less competitive. I know why jobs grow and why they're eliminated."

    Romney said he is "very concerned about the America that my grandkids will enjoy, and your grandkids will enjoy. It can be a stronger, more vibrant nation, or it can become the France of the 21st century - starting off as the economic superpower, military superpower, ending still a great nation, but not the world's superpower. The choices we make today will determine whether America is a more prosperous and secure place for our grandchildren. I can help do that."

    Among former presidents, Romney admires Dwight D. Eisenhower. Besides taking on communism, "He was a person whose leadership during World War II made him someone the entire nation revered and respected," Romney says. "And there's nothing wrong with having heroes in positions of prominence."

    Having rescued the commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Winter Olympics, Bain & Co., and his partner's daughter, Romney could well be talking about himself.

    Ronald Kessler, chief Washington correspondent of NewsMax, can be contacted by going here. Pamela Kessler contributed to this article.

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