DEARBORN, Michigan – When Mitt Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, officially enters the 2008 presidential race, he'll be a son seeking success where a father failed.
Four decades after George Romney's short-lived attempt, the younger Romney is returning to the state where he was born and raised to formally announce a candidacy that, if fruitful, would make him the first Mormon president of the United States.
In what amounts to a coming-out tour, Romney planned to give a speech to some 800 core supporters at the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan on Tuesday. He then will head to the other states that hold early primaries and caucuses -- Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina -- before returning to Boston after a three-day swing intended to introduce him to the nation.
A one-term governor of one of the country's most liberal states, Romney is not nearly as well known nationally as his two main rivals for the Republican nomination, Sen. John McCain of Arizona and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, political celebrities who consistently lead popularity polls.
Still, Romney is considered a top-tier contender even though his support is in the single digits in such surveys. He's a prolific fundraiser who is expected to easily collect the tens of millions of dollars needed for a serious bid; he has built a national campaign organization staffed with top political operatives; and he has strong grassroots support in several important states.
Romney, 59, also has a long record of accomplishment in the private, nonprofit and public sectors. It's a record of leadership he plans to emphasize as he seeks to convince Republican primary voters that he has the know-how to turn around struggling entities and, thus, is uniquely qualified to tackle the country's current challenges.
As a businessman, Romney helped found a multibillion-dollar venture capital firm that amassed a fortune funding companies like Staples, the office-supply giant. He left the private sector in 2002 to turn a scandal-plagued Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City into a success. Then, after winning the governor's post, Romney was credited with closing a $3 billion budget deficit without raising taxes.
He hopes his pitch of competence will supersede any uneasiness the Republican Party's conservative wing, whose support is crucial in the party's nominating contests, may have about his credentials on issues it holds dear.
A political neophyte at the time, Romney ran as a moderate in a failed effort to unseat Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1994 and again in his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. Now he's having to answer for his statements and positions back then as he tries to campaign as the more conservative candidate to McCain and Giuliani.
During the Senate race, he wrote a letter promising a gay Republican group he would be a stronger advocate for gays and their rights than Kennedy. Nevertheless, he insists he has been an unflinching opponent of gay marriage.
Also, in the two previous campaigns, he said that regardless of personal beliefs, abortion should be safe and legal. Now, he describes himself as pro-life and argues that Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, should be replaced with state abortion regulations.
Another potential roadblock to the Republican nomination is his Mormon faith, which some religious conservatives view skeptically. No Mormon has ever won the presidency, although several have tried, including the elder Romney in 1968.