UNITED STATES: by Jerome ApplebyNews Weekly
US presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney
, September 1, 2007
Will America put a Mormon in the White House, asks Jerome Appleby.
Until recently, few outside the United States would have been familiar with the name of Republican presidential hopeful, Willard Mitt Romney.
If, however, he succeeds in his bid for the White House, Romney will make history as America's first Mormon president.
This possibility is not so far-fetched as it once was, as Mitt Romney's credentials are as impressive as those of his two main rivals for the Republican nomination for the 2008 presidential election, ex-New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani and serving US Senator for Arizona, John McCain.
In 1975, Romney simultaneously earned an MBA and a law degree from Harvard, before embarking on a career working as an investment consultant. In 1984, he co-founded Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm that has invested in such well-known companies as Sealy, Domino's Pizza, Toys "R" Us and Burger King.Amassed a fortune
As head of Bain Capital, he presided over annual returns on realised investments for a 14-year period of over 100 per cent, making Bain Capital one of the top private-equity firms in the US, and helping Romney to amass a fortune estimated to be worth up to $US250 million.
In 1999, when the Salt Lake City Games were in dire straights - with a revenue shortfall in excess of $300 million, and with allegations of bribery involving top officials - Romney was employed as the CEO and president of the Salt Lake City Organizing Committee. He once again proved his business acumen: through leadership changes, slashing costs and increased fundraising, he managed to turn the problem around; in the end, the games recorded a profit of over $100 million.
In 1994, Romney stood as the Republican Party candidate for the US Senate seat of Massachusetts. He failed to unseat the incumbent Democrat Senator Edward "Ted" Kennedy.
Then, in 2002, he ran a successful campaign for governor of Massachusetts. He managed to turn an inherited budget deficit into a surplus while lowering taxes and unemployment; but did not seek a second term, clearing his run for the US presidency.
It seems politics is in his blood. His father was governor of Michigan and was a presidential candidate, while his mother unsuccessfully contested a Senate seat.
Exactly where Romney stands on various social issues, however, is unclear. On abortion, in 1994, when he was running for the Senate, he said, "Abortion should be safe and legal in this country." He reached this position, he says, after having a close relative die as the result of an (illegal) abortion.
However, recently he seems to have changed his views. Some have suggested this is for political reasons - when he was running for the Senate and for governor in Massachusetts, he needed to appeal to liberal voters; whereas now he needs to appeal to conservatives.
He now strongly asserts that he is pro-life. He claims he changed his opinion on abortion two and a half years ago after speaking to a stem-cell researcher. Romney said he realised then that "something is wrong in a society where we have so cheapened the value of human life that we think destroying human embryos at 14 days isn't a moral issue".
Romney has been prepared to put his money where his mouth is. Last December, a foundation he controls gave a $US15,000 donation to Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
On the issue of homosexual rights, it appears Romney has also had a change of mind, much as he did on abortion. In 1994, when campaigning for the US Senate, he sent a letter to a gay Republican club, stating that he would be a stronger promoter of gay rights than the sitting Senator Ted Kennedy, and that equality for gays and lesbians should be a "mainstream concern".
However, as governor of Massachusetts, he opposed gay marriage, lobbying for a state constitutional amendment after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, in 2004, held that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional. Romney has stated his opposition to same-sex civil unions as well.
And then there is his Mormon faith, quite possibly the biggest hurdle to the White House. A poll conducted last year by the Los Angeles Times
discovered that 35 per cent of registered voters would not consider voting for a Mormon as President.
How Romney deals with the issue of his Mormon faith will be crucial to his chances of success. He has done a good job in the past of nullifying its potentially adverse affects.
When Senator Edward Kennedy tried to make an issue of some of the Church of Latter Day Saints' views in the 1994 Senate contest, Romney managed to put the issue to bed by responding that he was not running to be "spokesman of my church".- Jerome Appleby works as a research officer with the Thomas More Centre, Adelaide.