If he isn’t already, Josh Romney’s father will soon be one of the most recognizable people in the world as he clinches the Republican nomination and takes on President Barack Obama this fall.
Josh Romney, however, is hoping to remain somewhat anonymous as he grabs lunch at that “really good Thai place” near his Salt Lake City office or cuts the grass at his home in the suburb of Millcreek.
“I occasionally get recognized by an old lady or two but that’s about it,” Josh Romney jokes when asked if he finds himself in quasi-celebrity status in Utah with his dad, Mitt Romney, on an unhindered path to the GOP nomination.
“For me, life hasn’t changed dramatically, and I hope it never does.”
As one of two Romney sons in Utah — a state incredibly fond of the former head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City — Josh Romney is excited about his father’s chances and is prepared to crisscross the United States pitching him as the candidate best equipped to fix America’s problems.
Political campaigns are familiar territory for the Romney family: Josh Romney was 18 when his dad made an unsuccessful run for the Senate in Massachusetts against then-Sen. Ted Kennedy, and he was just out of Harvard Business School when his dad ascended to the Massachusetts Governor’s Office.
It was Josh Romney who held the keys to the Mitt Mobile campaign bus in Iowa in 2008 with the charge to visit all 99 counties and press the vote for his father.
Already this cycle, the younger Romney has hit about 20 states across the country and he recently spoke at the Utah Republican convention to push a slate of national delegates loyal to his father. He was scheduled to speak Saturday at the Arizona GOP convention.
“I have a lot of fun going on the campaign trail and campaigning for my dad,” says the 36-year-old. “It can be really rewarding. It can be tough at times. People sometimes can be very critical of your dad right to your face.”
Such is the life for family members who can bring a crucial touch of humanity to a politician but in the process may themselves suffer the wrath of opponents and critics. It takes a thicker skin to brush off the barbs thrown at a loved one — a reality that Romney says he’s growing to accept.
“We know who my dad is. We know who my mom is,” says the father of five. “When people criticize them for this or that, we know who they really are, so it doesn’t bother me.”
That’s also a skill that could come in handy for the Utah resident if he ever runs for office himself.
Mini-Mitt • Josh Romney has the chiseled jaw and straight-from-the-gym physique that distinguishes the Romney clan. He looks like a younger version of his dad, and he is in a business akin to that of his dad’s past career, albeit on a smaller scale.
While Mitt Rommey co-founed Bain Capital and bought up companies to streamline and repair, Josh Romney scouts the country for distressed apartment complexes in good neighborhoods and rehabs them.
His partner on some of the work is Kem Gardner, a Utah Democrat and close confidant of Mitt Romney who also develops property in Utah.
At Romney Ventures, Josh Romney’s firm located on Salt Lake City’s red-bricked Pierpont Avenue, the uniform on a recent Friday is jeans, sneakers and a Polo shirt.
Two black bags sit near the door, ready to be flown to the Philippines the next day when the younger Romney travels to support Charity Vision, a self-sustainable group that seeks to bring better eyesight to residents of underdeveloped countries by asking for donations from those who can pay for surgery to subsidize those who can’t.
“People will occasionally bring in a bag of rice or a chicken,” Romney says, noting that the more invested patients are, the better they’ll take care of their eyes in the future.
Josh Romney’s brother Ben works not too far away from Romney Ventures, finishing up his second year of residency in radiology at the University of Utah Hospital; he’s not one for politics, however, and is likely to be on the campaign trail only when all five sons are deployed.
“He’s a little more under the radar,” Josh Romney says of his brother.
The campaign, though, is still very much a family affair. When not appearing with her husband, Ann Romney is off to spots where she can help recruit voters, especially women.
Tagg Romney, who left his marketing job with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008 to help his dad, is a seasoned campaigner. Matt and Craig Romney help out on occasion, too.
Josh Romney jokes that he finds himself often sent to the more rural assignments, like Wyoming or Alaska, while his brothers end up basking in the sun in more tropical climes.
“So while Matt was in the Mauritius Islands with the king putting leis on his head, I was in Alaska holding street signs in negative-40-degree weather,” Romney quips in brotherly fashion.
At some point in the future, Josh Romney may be appearing on campaign signs himself.
Kirk Jowers, the head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, approached Josh Romney two years ago about joining him in a gubernatorial bid against incumbent Gov. Gary Herbert. They eventually decided against a campaign, though Romney says he may still have the same political bug that drives his father.
“I have no plans for anything in the future,” he says. “I mean, I wouldn’t close any doors necessarily, but there’s nothing I’m looking at.”
In the meantime, he waded into his first race outside of his dad’s campaign to endorse congressional candidate Mia Love, appearing on video at the state GOP convention to tout her as his pick for Utah’s next congresswoman.
Besides that endorsement, Romney says he’s focused on getting his dad into the White House, meaning he intends to stay on message and prompt some news media coverage — but not too much.
“My goal in the campaign is to be in the paper on page seven or eight, but not on page one,” he says.
For the offspring of presidential candidates, that’s usually an elusive goal.
Off-stage eruptions • While children of White House hopefuls are often pulled on stage at political rallies to show a strong family connection, it’s the off-stage behavior that can roil a campaign.
Ex-presidential contender Jon Huntsman’s son Will says he was just trying to catch another political rally when he ended up photographed at a Mitt Romney appearance at a Salt Lake City burger joint last year.
President George W. Bush’s twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, caught flak for two alcohol-related charges during their dad’s 2004 campaign. Meghan McCain’s candid comments grabbed the news media’s attention during her father’s run in 2008.
Of course, the children can also provide voters with a view of candidates that usually is missing from the political world’s typical sound bites and video clips.
When news reports early this year suggested that ex-House Speaker and presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich had wanted an open marriage with his second wife, his two daughters rushed to defend their dad.
Jackie Cushman, Gingrich’s youngest daughter, says she felt duty-bound to call out the open-marriage accusation as false and explain to the world what her father is really like. That’s where the power of progeny comes in.
“You can talk about him as a father, show a different side of him that allows people to see him as a person,” Cushman said in a Salt Lake Tribune interview. “It’s a window into that relationship.”
Cushman, who also dealt with the attacks when her father was House speaker, says her advice to all children of presidential contenders is to not focus on the negative.
“When [Gingrich] was speaker, he was vilified by the press,” she recalls. “I still laugh about the year he was the ‘Grinch that stole Christmas.’ He was my dad, and he’s never stolen my Christmas.”
Josh Romney hopes that he, too, can help correct stereotypes about his father — that he’s robotic and out of touch.
“That’s the furthest thing from the truth, that he’s anything like that,” Romney says. “I look at my dad as someone who is incredibly fun-loving. I look at him with my kids. He’ll get down on the floor and wrestle with them. He likes to be with our family more than anything else in the world.”
Romney also says his dad is a frugal man, despite his fortune.
“He hates waste. I can assure you that as a guy who vacations with him, he is like that through and through,” Romney says. “We’ll go on vacation and he’ll go to Costco and stock up on food and breakfasts and lunches so we don’t have to waste money.”
Mitt Romney’s campaign has spent no money at Costco this cycle, according to federal records, but Josh Romney doesn’t rule it out.
“He loves Costco.”
Ups and downs • Josh Romney concedes the campaign isn’t always a joy ride.
He was the one who introduced his father in Colorado on the night he lost the caucuses there — and Minnesota and Missouri — to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Then there was the time the Romney son ran out of gas on a lonely stretch in Nevada while campaigning.
Not too long ago, Josh Romney appeared at an event in Washington, only to draw protesters from Occupy D.C. He walked over to the sign-wielding group and introduced himself.
“You go out and shake their hands, and they’re actually very nice,” he says. “People are passionate about their politics. The Ron Paul folks are nice, too.”
So far, members of the youngest generation of Romneys — Mitt Romney has 18 grandchildren — have appeared at select events, though Josh Romney notes his kids, ages 1 to 9, aren’t galvanized by the campaign yet.
“I don’t think they really even know what the heck is going on,” Romney jokes. “They’ll turn on the TV and they’ll see my dad and say, ‘Hey, Papa is on TV.’ They get excited and then walk away and start playing with toys.”
It’s not always a warm welcome
Phoenix • Ron Paul supporters booed Josh Romney off the stage Saturday at the Arizona Republican Party convention, as he sought to solidify support for his father’s nomination.
Hundreds of state GOP members were gathered at Grand Canyon University to elect delegates for the national convention in July in Tampa, Fla., which is expected to select Mitt Romney as the official Republican nominee to challenge President Barack Obama.
“We cannot afford four more years of President Obama,” said Josh Romney, the third of Mitt Romney’s five sons. “We need someone to step in there and turn things around.”
But Josh Romney had to stop repeatedly as people booed and yelled for Paul, who has continued campaigning in the Republican primary. All other challengers have dropped out of the race, and Romney has a commanding lead over Paul.
But Paul supporters are flooding state conventions, recently winning delegate majorities in Nevada and Maine.
Josh Romney tried to appease the crowd, but as he wrapped up, with an admonition to choose the preferred slate of Mitt Romney delegates, the crowd exploded with competing boos and cheers, cutting him short.
Some attendees said they heard Paul supporters chanting outside that Mitt Romney is “the white Obama.”
The Arizona Republic