Video: Race for 2012 GOP nomination heats up

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updated 6/2/2011 11:12:04 AM ET 2011-06-02T15:12:04

What are the odds of this? A guy gets into a head-on collision, has a police officer write "He is dead" at the scene, and lives to tell.

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Mitt Romney knows a thing or two about second chances.

After that long-ago highway collision when he was a young missionary serving in France, Romney earned an outsized reputation and millions of dollars as a corporate turnaround artist, fixing bottom lines, cleaning up the scandal-tarred Salt Lake City Olympics and giving various other endeavors a second wind.

Now he is determined to do that for himself. (And his country, he would say.)

"I've never seen an enterprise in more desperate need of a turnaround than the U.S. government," Romney says.

An also-ran to John McCain in the 2008 Republican nomination fight, Romney is the closest thing to a front-runner that the still-jelling GOP presidential field for 2012 has to offer.

Video: Romney: Obama an ‘ineffective’ president (on this page)

On Thursday, the former Massachusetts governor makes his candidacy official during an appearance at a farm in Stratham, N.H.

With his good looks, able fundraising, strong political organization, solid family and business acumen, Romney sounds like a candidate ordered from central casting to run in a time of economic stress.

But to succeed where he failed four years ago, Romney, 64, will need to convince voters that behind the picture-perfect presentation lurks a human being with a passion to lead and an unshakeable set of convictions.

Moderate or conservative?
The rap against Romney in 2008 was that he'd conveniently reinvented himself to fit the political environment of the day.

The man who'd governed Massachusetts as a pro-abortion rights moderate and delivered a bold statewide plan for universal health care coverage offered himself to Republicans as an anti-abortion social conservative who advocated limited government.

And that set off authenticity alarm bells with voters around the country. Pundits who thought his Mormon faith might be a problem for him concluded his changing political convictions probably caused him more grief.

This time around, Romney hopes the campaign for the GOP nomination will roll down his "power alley" — the economy and his business background — and away from social issues that bogged him down.

He's coming across as a little looser in the process. After he got into a tiff with a rapper onboard an aircraft last year, the well-gelled Romney joked that the singer "broke my hair."

Video: GOP: Guys Other than Palin (on this page)

Over the past four years, he wrote a book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," built a political machine and cultivated diverse friends.

The dust had hardly settled on the bruising nomination struggle of 2008 when Romney threw himself behind the candidate who had defeated him, began raising money for Republicans across the country and started pushing all the right buttons in the party.

Watching this unfold, Republican strategist Mary Matalin was struck by how Romney, in seeking common cause with the party's religious, intellectual and economic forces, may have "the greatest potential to pull all those factions together" even though other candidates may stir more passion in their core followers.

'Romneycare'
If only he could get "Romneycare" off his back.

The health care law he signed as governor has gone on to extend coverage to more than 98 percent of Massachusetts residents, unparalleled in the nation. But he's not bragging.

The package's stiff insurance mandate, its protections against losing coverage, penalties for noncompliance and subsidies for those needing help were largely embraced and adapted in President Barack Obama's national overhaul.

That risks causing Romney no end of grief from Republican rivals as the field plays to anti-government sentiment and goes after "Obamacare" in the primaries.

At the moment, it's hard to tell if Romney is proud of what he accomplished.

"Some things worked, some didn't, and some things I'd change," he remarks now, somewhat defensively.

He says his measures were not a federal mandate on all states, a fundamental difference that still does not erase the fact that government made the rules and diverted the tax dollars to make the changes happen.

Story: Romney labels Obama 'ineffective president'

He tackled this conundrum head on in a half-hour talk and slide show in Michigan last month. He had called his book "No Apology" as a dig at President Barack Obama, whom he accuses of selling American exceptionalism short.

But this time the label applied to him. There would be no apology for Romneycare; instead, a somewhat tortured explanation of it.

"A lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, that it was just a boneheaded idea and I should just admit it," Romney said then. "There's only one problem with that: It wouldn't be honest. I, in fact, did what I believe was right for the people of my state."

Safely Republican ideas
The speech was largely a bust with conservatives, although it appears not to have knocked him down many pegs.

In any event, his book lays out different, safely Republican ideas about how to fix the system. He calls it "free-market health care." Expect to hear a lot about that in the GOP debates to come.

Son of George Romney, who was chairman of the old American Motors, a Michigan governor and failed Republican presidential hopeful in the 1960s, Willard Mitt Romney earned simultaneous law and business degrees at Harvard on his way to a high-flying corporate career that would take a turn to politics.

He worked for Boston Consulting Group, helping companies fatten their bottom lines. Then he moved to rival Bain & Co., where he led a new spinoff, Bain Capital, which combined management consulting with investments in promising companies.

He helped start or reinvigorate hundreds of companies, Staples and Domino's Pizza among them, on his way to amassing a personal fortune.

It's just the resume the country needs, says Romney, who calls Obama "one of the most ineffective presidents" he's ever seen.

"What I know and what I've spent my life doing is particularly relevant right now," he said last weekend in Iowa.

Romney took on Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994, a hopeless quest. "He took me to school," Romney said afterward. Years later Kennedy would stand with Romney at the signing of the landmark health care law.

Romney cemented his reputation as a turnaround artist when he stepped in to clean up the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, reeling with accusations of bribery and resignations from the organizing committee.

He cut costs, boosted revenues and oversaw a successful event despite the dark shadow over the nation from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

That made it a ripe time to reawaken his political ambition. Republicans recruited him to run for governor in deeply Democratic Massachusetts. Backed by $6 million of his own money, he won.

The combination of fiscally conservative and socially moderate policies he brought to that race proved a winning formula in the state, but complicated the 2008 primaries, which are dominated by conservative voters. His challenge then remains his challenge now on the road to 2012.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Mitt Romney

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  1. Mitt Romney at the age of 1, in 1948, the son of the eventual three-term Republican governor of Michigan and unsuccessful presidential candidate, George Romney, and his wife, Lenore, an unsuccessful candidate for senator from Michigan. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Mitt with his father, George Romney, taken about 1957. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. American Motors President George Romney with his wife, children, and grandchildren. Mitt Romney's father was elected governor of Michigan in 1962. Mitt was an intern in the governor's office and traveled with his father to the 1964 Republican National Convention. (Francis Miller / Time & Life Pictures via Getty Image) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Mitt Romney, at left, with fellow Mormon missionaries in front of the police station in Limoges, central France, in autumn 1968. The fresh-faced Latter-Day Saints who came to France in the late 1960s to preach the message of Jesus Christ -- of which Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is the most well-known -- discovered a secular and skeptical populace, and few willing converts. On bad days, the young Americans were greeted with guns, or barking dogs chased at their heels. Romney has said his mission, which took him through LeHavre, Paris and Bordeaux, was a testing time, with rejection an everyday occurrence. But it was precisely this two and half years that helped cement Romney's tenacity and his faith, say current and former missionaries. (Mike Bush via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Mitt and Ann Lois Davies on their wedding day, March 21, 1969. They first met in elementary school, but started dating in the spring of 1965. Later Ann suffered from multiple sclerosis and breast cancer. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mitt and Ann Romney with their five sons in 1981: Tagg, Matt, Josh, Ben and Craig. (MittRomney.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mitt Romney, CEO and president of Salt Lake Organizing Committee, joins U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft on Jan. 22, 2002 at a press conference ahead of the city's Olympic Games. Before Romney came on, the event was running $379 million behind budget and allegations of bribery shook the organization's top brass. Romney was also tasked with keeping the games safe in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. (George Frey / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Former Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney, with his wife Ann, speaks at a press conference on March 19, 2002 at his home in Belmont, Mass. Romney announced that he was entering the governor's race. The announcement came just hours after acting Gov. Jane Swift announced she will bow out of the contest. (Darren McCollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. President George W. Bush stands beside Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney at the Seaport Hotel on Oct. 4 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts. Bush was campaigning in the Bay State as Republicans attempted to extend a 12-year grip on the governorship of this otherwise Democratic-controlled commonwealth. Romney went on to serve as governor from 2003-2007. (Tim Sloan / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Two men on opposite sides of the issue argue over gay marriage outside the Massachusetts State House while the legislature was in its second day of debate over a possible constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage on Feb. 12, 2004 in Boston. The proposed amendment, supported by Gov. Mitt Romney, was drafted in response to a state Supreme Judicial Court ruling declaring that the right to same-sex marriage was protected by the state's constitution. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Photographs of the victims line the stage as Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri, his wife Suzanne, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann bow their heads in prayer during a memorial service on the eve of the one-year anniversary of The Station nightclub fire Feb. 19, 2004 in Cranston, R.I. The Station, located in nearby West Warwick, was destroyed and 100 people died after a fire broke out when the rock band Great White ignited pyrotechnics on Feb. 20, 2003. (Michael Springer / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mitt Romney looks on while Massachusetts Secretary of Transportation John Cogliano speaks during a press conference at the Statehouse in Boston. Governor Romney announced on July 13, 2006 that he was filing emergency legislation to give the Executive Branch the authority to oversee the inspection of the failed ceiling system in the I-90 Connector tunnel. A large section of the "Big Dig" tunnel was found to be faulty after a 12-ton portion collapsed, killing a woman and injuring her husband. (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Romney signs into law a new health care reform bill during a ceremony at Faneuil Hall April 12, 2006 in Boston. The late Sen. Edward Kennedy joined Romney for the signing of the bill, which made Massachusetts the first state in the country to require all residents have health insurance. His support of a plan that many feel was an inspiration for "Obamacare" has put the Republican on the defensive ahead of the 2012 elections. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Romney and his wife Ann turn to wave from the red carpet in front of the Statehouse, in Boston, as he completes his "lone walk" out on Jan. 3, 2007, the day before his replacement, Deval Patrick, is sworn in as the new governor. (Steven Senne / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Romney officially announces he is entering the race for the Republican presidential nomination Feb. 13, 2007 at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich. Romney kicked off his three-day, four state announcement tour of Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, addressing the need to build a "new American dream" by strengthening families and education. (Bill Pugliano / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Romney speaks on faith in America at The George Bush Presidential Library on Texas A & M University campus Dec. 6, 2007 in College Station, Texas. Romney talked about the role of religion in government and his Mormon faith. As a young missionary, Romney spent several years in France. (Ben Sklar / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Romney speaks, alongside his sons and wife, during a post-primary rally on Jan. 29, 2008 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Romney came in second to John McCain. Days earlier, McCain took the South Carolina primary, where Romney placed fourth. (Alex Wong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Trailing John McCain following the Super Tuesday presidential primaries, Romney calls it quits during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee on Feb. 7, 2008 in Washington. He's seen here, waving goodbye to the crowd with his wife Ann. (Jonathan Ernst / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Romney shakes hands with Sen. John McCain after endorsing his presidential bid in Boston on Feb. 14, 2008. Romney had just ended his own, unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination. All in all, Romney won 11 primaries and caucuses and was considered to be on McCain's short-list for vice president. (Darren Mccollester / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Romney reacts to the crowd on day three of the Republican National Convention at the Xcel Energy Center on Sept. 3, 2008 in St. Paul, Minn. Having failed in his own bid to headline the party ticket, Romney threw his support toward John MCCain, who was officially nominated on the last day of the convention. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness," written by Romney, is seen in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2010. The major theme of the book is the idea of American exceptionalism - meant to address Romney's belief that President Barack Obama spends too much time abroad apologizing for past national trangressions. (Tim Sloan / AFP/Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Volunteers participate in a Mitt Romney phone bank fundraiser, Monday, May 16, 2011, in Las Vegas. The former Massachusetts governor worked with volunteers to reach out to voters and donors through cell phones and computers. (Julie Jacobson / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney announces he joining the race for President of the United States, June 2, 2011, during a campaign event at Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, N.H. (Stephan Savoia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann embrace at the Hotel Fort Des Moines on the night of the Iowa Caucuses Jan. 3, 2012 in Des Moines, Iowa. On the night of the Iowa contest, Mitt Romney was projected the winner by a mere eight votes, but on Jan. 19, the Iowa GOP declared that after certifying the results, Santorum had officially won the primary by 34 votes. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Former presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., left, announces his endorsement of Mitt Romney during a town hall meeting at Central High School Jan. 4, 2012 in Manchester, N.H. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Romney takes center stage during his primary night rally with members of his family, left to right, Matt, Tagg, Craig, wife Ann, Ben and Josh Romney following the first-in-the-nation primary at Southern New Hampshire University Jan. 10, 2012 in Manchester, N.H. Romney finished first in the state's primary election with 39% of the vote and collected seven delegates. (Win Mcnamee / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Mitt Romney waves to supporters behind him as he takes the podium on primary night in Columbia, South Carolina on Jan. 21, 2012. Romney conceded defeat in the South Carolina primary to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich who came from behind to beat him by 12 percent. (Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Romney shakes hands with supporters at his Florida primary night rally in Tampa, Jan. 31. Romney beat his four opponents and collected the state's 50 delegates, putting him in the lead with 87 delegates, ahead of Newt Gingrich's 26. (Steve Nesius / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Mitt Romney shakes hands with businessman and real estate developer Donald Trump at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, Feb. 2. Trump re-injected himself and his wealth into the Republican presidential race by endorsing Romney, a day after the front-runner stumbled with remarks suggesting he was indifferent to America's poor. (Steve Marcus / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets his wife and family along with vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, his wife and family on stage after accepting the nomination at the Republican National Convention on Aug. 30, in Tampa, Florida. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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