MANCHESTER, N.H.—It was during a household meeting in December 2006 that Tagg Romney spoke for the rest of his family as he urged his father to cast aside any doubts and run for president.
“I don’t think you have a choice; I think you have to run,” Mitt Romney’s eldest son said, as his father sat with a legal pad in his lap and surveyed the opinions of not just his wife and their own children, but their sons’ respective wives.
“Look at the way your life has unfolded,” Tagg Romney continued, tears welling in his eyes. “You’re gifted, you’re smart, you’re intelligent, but you’ve also been extraordinarily lucky, and so many things have broken your way, that you couldn’t have predicted or controlled. It would have been a shame not to at least try. And if you don’t win, we’ll still love you.”
On Monday night, nearly six years after that conversation, Mitt Romney and his family wrapped up their quest for the presidency with a final pre-election rally at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
The promise of the White House was as tantalizingly close as the bitterness of defeat.
Various polls showed the former Massachusetts governor tied, narrowly leading, or narrowly losing to President Obama in pivotal Electoral College states across the country. It explained last-minute stops Romney planned to make in Ohio and Pennsylvania after voting this morning in his hometown of Belmont, Mass.
Hanging in the balance was Romney’s election as the nation’s 45th president, or the prospect of seeing his Secret Service detail pack up on Wednesday and leave him to fend for himself once again as John Q. Citizen.
The difference between the two is precipitous. That he was in that position, though, is testament to Romney’s development and endurance as a national political figure.
Between that meeting at the family’s Utah ski house in 2006 and the rally here that finished about 15 minutes before the clock showed midnight and the start of Election Day, Mitt Romney ran not one but two campaigns for president.
He formally kicked off the first in February 2007 at the Henry Ford Museum in his native Michigan and ended it a year later with a surprise concession at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.
During that first campaign, he poured $45 million of his own fortune into building his national name recognition. He sought to address simmering doubts about his religion with a speech that nonetheless used the word “Mormon” precisely once. He experienced the betrayal of then-Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who pledged to stay neutral in the race but then endorsed rival John McCain before the Florida primary.
A little more than a week later, after McCain beat him again in a string of Super Tuesday contests, Romney trudged through Logan International Airport with his wife and closest staff, gathered his thoughts in a private room at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, and then headed downstairs to announce his decision before a crowd that gasped at the announcement.
“Soon the face of liberalism in America will have a new name. Whether it’s ‘Barack’ or ‘Hillary,’ the result would be the same if they were to be able to win the presidency,” he began, delivering a message that foreshadowed that of his second campaign.
“The opponents of American culture would push the throttle, devising new justifications for judges to depart from the Constitution,” Romney added. “And economic neophytes would layer heavier and heavier burdens on employers and families, slowing our economy, opening the way for foreign competition to further erode our lead.”
Despite that concern, or in light of it, Romney decided to concede the race.
“If I fight on, in my campaign, all the way to the convention—I want you to know, I’ve given this a lot of thought—I’d forestall the launch of a national campaign and, frankly, I’d make it easier for Senator Clinton or Obama to win. Frankly, in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign be a part of aiding a surrender to terror,” he said.
“I entered this race because I love America. And because I love America, in this time of war, I feel I have to now stand aside for our party and for our country,” Romney concluded.
The first campaign segued near-seamlessly to the second.
Romney not only hosted McCain at his Boston headquarters—the same one he still uses today—and delivered an unwavering endorsement of his candidacy.
He lent McCain his top-fund-raiser, Spencer Zwick, and urged former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a onetime Bain Capital colleague, to share her management expertise.
Soon, Romney himself was on the stump, not only raising money for McCain but urging voters to back the candidate he once said was inferior to him.
Romney was so earnest in his commitment that McCain vetted him for vice president and he emerged as one of the finalists.
After Obama beat McCain, Romney stepped out of the spotlight.
He cleaned up his real estate portfolio, an issue that entangled McCain, selling off his large homes in Belmont, Mass., and Deer Valley, Utah, and buying a new townhouse in Belmont and a smaller—albeit, still $12 million—home in La Jolla, Calif.
He carefully picked his spots to join in the national political discourse, no longer having to take every opportunity for airtime to educate voters about himself.
When it came time to reengage, he did it on his terms, writing a book—“No Apology”—and undertaking political travel and making donations through his Free and Strong America PAC.
Finally, in June 2011, Romney came to Doug and Stella Scamman’s farm in Stratham, N.H., to announce that he would run once again for president.
“President Obama’s European answers are not the right solution to America’s challenges,” Romney declared after serving up portions of his wife’s turkey chili to an adoring crowd. “In the campaign to come, the American ideals of economic freedom and opportunity need a clear and unapologetic defense, and I intend to make it—because I have lived it.”
Romney showed in his second campaign that he had learned some lessons from the first.
He retained his loyal band of advisers but thinned the ranks of consultants who supplemented them.
He took advantage of support from new super PACs and also his enhanced personal fund-raising network, raising nearly $400 million for his campaign. But he weaned himself off his own bank account and gave just $150,000 to his political cause.
He tacked to the right to fend off his nomination rivals, and—a $10,000 bet offered during one debate notwithstanding—largely maintained a presidential bearing throughout a series of nearly 20 primary debates.
He thought he won Iowa caucuses before learning he lost them by 34 votes. He rebounded in the New Hampshire primary, and bounced back from a loss in South Carolina with a win in his 2008 Waterloo, the Florida primary.
He then won the big-ticket states of Ohio and Virginia in the March 6 Super Tuesday contests, before sealing the nomination with a clean sweep of Wisconsin, Maryland, and the District of Columbia on April 3.
A week later, Rick Santorum quit the race, clearing the path for Romney to run head-to-head against Obama.
For the remainder of this year, Romney got precisely what he first sought six years ago and which eluded his late father and personal hero, 1968 presidential candidate George Romney: the Republican nomination and the bully pulpit it afforded him.
He crafted precisely the convention he wanted, the interruption of Hurricane Isaac excepted, and beamed as his wife, Ann; running mate, Paul Ryan; and even his best friend, Bob White, extolled his virtues to a national audience.
After a rough post-Labor Day stretch, Romney also reclaimed the polling lead with his first debate with Obama on Oct. 3 at the University of Denver.
If there was a highpoint to his campaign before the results roll in tonight, it was his strong performance once he finally had the opportunity to speak directly to Obama, a confrontation he always told his campaign audiences he would relish.
In recent weeks, Romney clung to a lead, in part due to a centrist tack that is predictable for any general election candidate.
But as the undecideds began to make their final selection, the race started to tilt back toward Obama.
Romney didn’t yield, pouring campaign cash and his personal time into largely Democratic Pennsylvania, an attempt to break Obama electorally.
And he set off to barnstorm battleground states before coming back to the one where he kicked off his second—and, what his wife said, final—campaign.
“The only thing that stands between us and some of the best years we’ve ever imagined is a lack of leadership, and that’s why we have elections,” Romney told the crowd Monday during his final rally in New Hampshire. “Tomorrow is a moment to look into the future.”
Tonight, Mitt Romney will deliver either a victory or a concession speech in the main ballroom at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.
It is the same spot where he raised $6.5 million on Jan. 8, 2007, during a telethon for his first campaign.
It seems pittance after the $2 billion campaign that draws to a close today, but it was a record for the time. And it established Mitt Romney as a force to be reckoned with throughout the ensuing six years.Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.