Last held public office: Governor of Massachusetts, 2003-07
Of all the prospective Republican presidential candidates, Mitt Romney is the only one who could play himself in a movie. With a chiseled chin and a flawless coiffure, the son of a governor just looks the part. His wife, five sons and 14 grandchildren are equally photogenic. Stints at private-equity firm Bain Capital and atop the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games Organizing Committee have endeared Romney to business-friendly conservatives who favor his entrepreneurial approach, and as the former governor of a blue state, Romney has a desirable attribute: the ability to beat Democrats in competitive elections.
The knock on Romney is that he's transparently expedient. In the run-up to 2008, he tacked hard right on a number of issues, but not all Republicans were buying it. Explaining his record has only become more difficult. In 2006, then Governor Romney had the political misfortune of enacting bipartisan health care legislation in Massachusetts that included a requirement for most Bay Staters to purchase health insurance. Why misfortune? The plan he put in place became the model for President Obama's national health care overhaul. Challenging that law be it on the Hill, in the courts or otherwise has become a rallying cause of the conservative movement in the year since its passage and has forced Romney, who argues that health reform should be enacted only on the state level, into an awkward position with his base. He also struggles with some social conservatives because of his Mormon faith and unsteady footing on abortion.
At the moment, Romney is unquestionably the front runner in a poorly defined field. He enjoys better name recognition nationwide than all the other prospective candidates, with the exception of Sarah Palin. His political network and fundraising operation are unmatched. And he's spent the two years since his last stab at the presidency peppering the landscape with careful endorsements, op-eds knocking Obama and book-publicity stops.
Representative quote: "Conservatism has had from its inception vigorously positive, intellectually rigorous agenda and thinking. That agenda should have in it my three pillars: strengthen the economy, strengthen our security, and strengthen our families."