Mitt Romney

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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan have made the weak economy the cornerstone of their campaign. In the weeks leading up to the General Election, both parties have focused their campaign efforts on the so-called battleground states _ those that do not reliably vote either Republican or Democratic.

The former governor and business executive has substantial strengths: He's well-known and has a personal fortune. He fundraises through an established network of donors. He's had success in business and knows the logistics of a national campaign after losing the 2008 GOP nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain.

But critics have slammed Romney for his changing positions on social issues including abortion and gay rights, shifts that have left conservatives questioning his sincerity. He also has struggled to curb some skepticism about his Mormon faith, which many evangelical Christians view as a sect.

Romney has pointed to his 42-year marriage to demonstrate his consistency. He has also played up his 25-year career in the private sector. Romney 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, including Staples and Domino's Pizza, on his way to amassing a personal fortune.

"Understanding how the economy works by having worked in the real economy is finally essential in the White House. And I hope people recognize that," Romney said.

Romney's biggest weakness among primary voters is that he championed a health care law while governor of Massachusetts that's similar to President Barack Obama's national health care overhaul, which conservatives despise. The plan that critics call "Romneycare" required the state's citizens to purchase health insurance. The "individual mandate" component of Obama's health care overhaul, which particularly draws Republican criticism, is in large part based on the Massachusetts practice.

Romney has defended his plan, saying the mandate encouraged individuals to take personal responsibility for their health care. Nonetheless, he has promised to sign an executive order that would spare states from complying with Obama's health care law.

Romney cemented his reputation as a problem-solver when he stepped in to clean up the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah, which were fraught with accusations of bribery and resignations from the organizing committee. He cut costs, boosted revenues and oversaw a successful event as the nation continued to recover from the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The combination of fiscally conservative and socially moderate policies that proved a winning formula for Romney when he ran for governor did not work in the 2008 presidential primaries, which were dominated by conservative voters. Romney lost the GOP presidential nomination to John McCain. He spent $110 million, more than $40 million of his own money, in that race.

The former Massachusetts governor kept a low public profile after his loss and began laying the groundwork for his second presidential bid. Capitalizing on his business background, Romney has campaigned to strengthen free enterprise, create jobs and downsize the federal government.

American Conservative Union Rating: Not rated

Americans for Democratic Action Rating: Not rated

Source: Associated Press

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PROJECT: Wilson Andrews, Jason Bartz, Ryan Kellett, Katie Parker, Leslie Passante and Serdar Tumgoren - The Washington Post. Published Oct. 8, 2012.

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