For anyone who listened to Mitt Romney during his first campaign for president, it’s no surprise that Olympic speedskater Dan Jansen attended the biggest fund-raiser to date for Romney’s second campaign.
Jansen became an international sports celebrity with his example of picking himself up after defeat and pushing on to victory.
It’s an example the former Massachusetts governor hopes to emulate starting tomorrow, when he publicly kicks off his 2012 White House bid.
During his 2008 campaign, Romney repeatedly evoked Jansen’s feat: winning an Olympic gold medal in the final race of his fourth Olympics, after losing prior efforts with falls, unexpectedly slow finishes, or stunned by the news his sister was on the verge of death from leukemia.
Romney and Jansen crossed paths in 1999, when Romney was enmeshed in turning around the scandal-plagued 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
The night before the 2008 Iowa caucuses, Jansen introduced Romney at his final state rally. He told the crowd that when a fellow skater asked him how he could be confident the Salt Lake City Olympics would be a success, Jansen replied, “Because I just met Mitt Romney.”
The following day, after Romney finished second to Mike Huckabee, Jansen again introduced Romney.
Adopting an Olympics analogy, the candidate told the crowd, “You win the silver in one event, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to come back and win the gold in the final event, and that we’re going to do.”
Of course, Romney also failed in the remainder of his campaign, but he has shown an Olympian’s determination and focus since he ended his candidacy in February 2008.
Almost immediately, a still-smarting Romney sucked up his pride and held a formal endorsement event for the eventual Republican nominee, John McCain, who had crushed his candidacy in the Florida and Super Tuesday primaries.
Romney did so even though he felt he had sufficiently thrown his support to McCain in the speech ending his own candidacy.
Quickly, though, Romney adopted the model of the loyal soldier, volunteering to campaign for McCain, sending his best fundraisers to help the campaign, and submitting to the vetting process as a possible vice presidential running mate.
Even after he was passed over for Sarah Palin, Romney did not disavow McCain. Yet after the Arizona senator lost to Democrat Barack Obama, Romney wasted no time positioning himself to be inheritor of the GOP mantle, the party's proverbial “next-in-line.”
He formed and made himself "honorary chairman" of the Free and Strong America PAC in 2009, using the so-called leadership political action committee to sprinkle campaign cash on candidates across the country.
While the idea was to promote like-minded politicians and create chits Romney could claim over the coming year the committee was much more about boosting Romney and maintaining his political viability.
As the Globe’s Donovan Slack noted in April, only 13 percent of the money raised by PAC affiliates in five states went to state candidates or causes. The broader PAC was similarly oriented for the purposes of Romney and his campaign-in-waiting.
Amid the political fund-raisers and donations, Romney also repositioned his personal real estate portfolio. While he didn’t downsize in the number of homes owned he had and still owns three he did so in square footage.
McCain himself had been criticized for his extensive and some said, excessive real estate holdings.
Romney used the La Jolla home as the setting to write “No Apology,” a book that criticizes Obama from its title onward, while laying the foundational argument for the Republican’s second candidacy.
Romney even read it aloud for an audio version.
More fundamentally, Romney has retooled his political operation while retaining the same core of advisers.
Matt Rhoades has moved from communications director to campaign manager, and the gubernatorial troika of Eric Fehrnstrom, Peter Flaherty, and Beth Myers remains intact as Romney’s presidential kitchen cabinet.
It is reminiscent of the “Iron Triangle” of advisers Karl Rove, Karen Hughes, and Joe Allbaugh that George W. Bush used to guide him to the Texas governor's mansion and the White House.
Romney has also retained two Bush ad-makers, Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer.
While Romney has traveled extensively since 2008, he has picked his spots to make news and adopted a core strategy of speaking only about what he wants and in the mediums that best suit him.
They can vary between a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt or a television sitdown with Sean Hannity, or an op-ed piece in everything from The New York Times to the hometown Globe and Herald.
The common denominator has been few follow-up questions and little challenge from the press corps that eventually travels with any presidential contender.
While Democrats and reporters have repeatedly questioned Romney about his criticism of federal universal health care in light of his support for state universal health care in Massachusetts, the former venture capitalist has zeroed in on the economy as his primary focus.
A self-described “turnaround” artist (that was the title of his first book), Romney recently complained that Obama's policies have failed after he toured a Las Vegas neighborhood with the highest foreclosure rate in the country.
"He and virtually all the people around him have never worked in the real economy. They just don't know how jobs are created in the private sector,” said Romney, despite statistics showing a job creation turnaround coinciding with Obama taking over from Bush.
In March 2010, after a speech in Chicago to promote “No Apology,” Romney offered a rare moment of reflection about his 2008 loss and a preview of his 2012 focus.
The former chief executive said he would have been better served by keeping the focus on his "power alley" the economy and his business background.
"Senator McCain went on a nationwide, pro-surge tour, and he had the credentials to do so," Romney said, referring to the naval veteran’s support for a boost in the US troop presence in Iraq.
"I mean, you can't compete with Sen. McCain on who's most experienced in dealing with Iraq, so we were talking about those issues,” he said.
Romney suggested his 2008 victory in his native Michigan, where he focused on his economic prescriptions, was a better template for any future campaign.
"I think that one of the things that's very important in running a campaign is to make sure that you're known for the things that really motivate you," he told reporters in one of the final free-wheeling moments of his political interregnum. "And I needed to do a better job to focus my campaign on the economy and getting the economy right and creating jobs. And whether through my ads or through my responses to debate questions or on the stump, my power alley is the economy. I understand why jobs come, why they go."
It’s that argument that will be the underpinning of Romney’s second White House campaign, the culmination of his effort to accept defeat, learn to re-channel his energies, and regroup for a second shot at victory.
Last month, Jansen was back at his side, this time for a one-day fundraising blitz in Las Vegas that generated $10.25 million in campaign pledges.
He again projected Romney would win, saying he "turned the Olympics around, and he'll turn the country around."
Tomorrow, the starting gun sounds.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.