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‘Mormon Rivals’ — Mitt Romney modeled his life after his father and idol, George Romney

First Published      Last Updated Jul 07 2015 10:42 pm

Inspiration » “I always think about Dad and about [how] I’m standing on his shoulders.”

Mitt Romney jettisoned his red tie in a Denver hotel suite and sat with his family, relishing his dismantling of President Barack Obama in their first presidential debate.

Romney had appeared aggressive and engaged, while the incumbent looked like he wanted to be anywhere but that stage.

A documentary crew followed Romney afterward as he rather modestly told his sons and their wives that presidents tend to have a hard time in their first toe-to-toe encounter, because they're stunned at this "whippersnapper" challenging them. Then he flipped through his debate notes and handed them to his son Matt. On the upper right corner, the word "DAD" was written in all caps.

"I always think about Dad and about [how] I'm standing on his shoulders," Romney said. "There's no way I'd be able to run for president if Dad hadn't done what Dad did. He's the real deal."

Mitt Romney never really rebelled as a teen. Instead, he desperately wanted to be like his famous father, George Romney. He grew up expecting to run a car company because his dad did. He ran for office largely because his dad did. Even Romney's love affair with young Ann Davies resembled his father's instant infatuation with Lenore LaFount.

George Romney is the man Mitt modeled his life after, at least his adult life, because his father's upbringing was humble and more than a little unusual.

Raised in a polygamist commune in Mexico, George Romney became a war refugee in the United States after the Mexican Revolution. His parents, who were not polygamists, lost everything and struggled financially for years as his father worked as a homebuilder in California, Idaho and eventually Salt Lake City.

George was a lath and plaster man for his father while in high school and while attending college. He never graduated. Instead, he got a job in Congress, which led to a position with an automobile association and eventually a spot at American Motors, a Detroit-based automaker that rallied behind the compact car at a time when the glamorous cars were wide, long and made of real metal.

While in school, he fell deeply in love with Lenore LaFount, an aspiring actress who had landed a $50,000 contract with MGM. Romney chased her from one coast to the other. She eventually abandoned her acting career in 1931 to be with him, a man who made far less than her but had big ambitions. He would call it "the best selling job I ever did."

They had their fourth child — Willard "Mitt" Romney — more than 15 years later and no one in the family would relish George Romney's political rise more.

Young politician • At age 14, Mitt Romney stood by his mother on the stage where his father announced his campaign to be governor of Michigan in 1962, a decision George Romney made only after a religious fast.

At the time, he was not only leading American Motors but he was also in charge of a state constitutional convention, during which he promised no politicking. Young Mitt caused a bit of a stir when he told reporters his father made the decision to run before that convention ended. George Romney quickly told reporters he didn't make the "final decision" until he was driving away from the convention to his home in posh Bloomfield Hills.

A few months later, Mitt made headlines again when, at an Independence Day event, he said: "It's really fun to be here in the United States for the Fourth of July for the first time."

The eyebrow-raising comment, which drew groans from the campaign staff, was true. The Romneys had a vacation home in Canada, where they celebrated the most American holiday each year. Years later, Mitt would laugh about it.

"That wasn't a great line," he said. "Yeah, I was not particularly adept at my communications with the media."

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