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Romney’s road to nomination began with father’s aspiration

Politics » A path marked by missteps and distractions has honed a candidate that is focused on a theme: the economy.

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"It’s part of the Romney code: to those that are given much, much is expected," Madden says. "Drawing upon the six years I’ve known him, that’s how he was brought up. Those principles were instilled in him at a very young age."

In 2007, Romney took his first plunge himself into the challenging waters of the presidential race.

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The first try » One poll, coming days after he announced an exploratory committee, showed that about 4 percent of Americans knew who Romney was.

Romney plunked down tens of millions of his own money to expand his name ID, even paying for straw poll voters to swing his way. But there were definite moments when the campaign struggled.

Madden, the Romney adviser, says the ex-governor’s fortitude kept the campaign alive.

"I think he actually got the strongest when these campaigns have been at their lowest moments," Madden says. "That’s where he’s had an incredible effect on the entire organization. The campaign reflects his attitude."

After 2008 losses in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida, Romney finally won Michigan, where he was born and where his family name was still revered.

Super Tuesday, though, was the death knell. Romney put on a brave face at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington where he pulled out of the race and stood behind the eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain.

Years later, McCain returned the favor, endorsing Romney on the eve of the New Hampshire primary that Romney this time would win in a walk.

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Another senior adviser to the Romney campaign, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by the campaign, says the ex-governor’s withdrawal from his 2008 bid helped attract supporters this time around.

"I think in the end people do reward persistence," says the adviser who has worked with Romney for years. "They want to see him get knocked down and stand back up, and the fact is we did that, didn’t run away, [played] the big boy, took our medicine and came back and worked very hard for McCain in ’08 and others in 2010. This is how he was prepared to pay the price and go the distance."

Republicans, traditionally, have rewarded candidates the second time around on the national stage, but that doesn’t mean Romney was going to have the nomination bequeathed to him.

The gauntlet » Like his father before him, Romney entered the 2012 race as the likely front-runner. He had the experience from his first run, the veteran team and the money tree ready to shake.

But Republican voters weren’t quite sure they wanted Romney. In fact, it seemed like they wanted to dance with everyone else before settling on him.

First, it was Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann who won the Iowa straw poll and bounded to the front of the line. Texas Gov. Rick Perry drew high interest when he entered the race until he uttered the debate "oops" heard round the world.

Businessman Herman Cain won November’s poll numbers, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich owned December and ex-Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum came from behind in January.

Romney, though, stayed consistent and started racking up delegates and avoiding the story of the day to focus on the economy as the main, and sometimes single, theme of his campaign.

"There’s always this sort of fascination with the next one, and the fact is we were a campaign that was organized to win the nomination, not win the month of November 2011," says the Romney senior adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity. "And you have to let that play out."

In debate after debate, Romney often stayed clear of attacking his opponents and instead laid siege to President Barack Obama’s policies. Ignore the others on the stage, Romney’s strategy suggested, this is between Obama and me.

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