Banking on the White House
Mitt Romney would be the only president born and bred in Michigan. He’s rich, with donors lining up to give him even more money. And he’s spending all of his energy on winning.
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“Michigan will become ground zero in the campaign. It will be the center of the campaign because I want to win Michigan, I think I can win Michigan; I was born here, and taking a blue state red would mean the White House for me.”
— Mitt Romney
Willard Mitt Romney hasn’t exactly made this a centerpiece of his campaign, but, if elected, he would be the only president in history to have grown up a stone’s throw from Woodward Avenue.
“He loved cars. Always loved cars!” his bubbly elder sister, Lynn Keenan, remembers. She got her license at 16, and Mitt, age 4, would always want to climb in beside her. “And I would turn and he would make a face and clench his hands and go … ‘Squeeeeeee!”’
“Then, a little later — he wasn’t all that much older — we found out that he could identify any [model] and make of car by glancing at the quarter-panel,” adds his brother, G. Scott Romney, now an attorney and Michigan State University trustee.
“I was telling someone in the campaign that story and he looked at me and said, ‘Scott, he still does that.’” That affection for all things automotive began when they lived in Detroit’s Palmer Woods, at 1860 Balmoral Dr., in a house that was substantial, but fairly modest for the exclusive neighborhood. There, Mitt came into the world a trifle unexpectedly on March 12, 1947. His mother, Lenore Romney, had thought she couldn’t have any more children. Lynn was almost 12, then, Jane nearly 9, and Scott, almost 6.
Father George Romney was then the hard-charging managing director of the American Automobile Manufacturers Association. He was a few years removed from fame as the man who’d taken over the failing American Motors Corp., turned it around, and become famous as the godfather of American Motors’ first successful car, the Rambler. (Ahead of his time, George denounced the Big Three for making too many gas-guzzling dinosaurs.)
The family was thrilled by the baby, who was named after his father’s best friend, J. Willard Marriott, of hotel fame. The middle name of Mitt was for a relative who played football for the Chicago Bears. But his birth was not an easy one, and it took a toll on Lenore. “Mom was never the same again [though she lived a long life, dying in 1998 at age 89],” says Scott, who is now a partner at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn.
Recalling the after-effects her mother endured after the late-in-life birth, Lynn says, “She had to stay in bed for almost two years and never really recovered. She used to play sports; she never really did again.” The upside was that Mitt may have gotten more time with his mother than the others.
The youngest Romney was 6 when the family moved again, to a house near Lahser Road. Then, it was out to a street right off Rathmor Road in Bloomfield Hills.
Today, theirs is almost certainly the only subdivision in the state that has been home to three candidates for governor — and two who have run for president. The elder Romney, who cut his political teeth by leading a successful drive for a new Constitutional Convention, was elected governor three times, in 1962, 1964, and 1966. Geoffrey Fieger, who has built a palatial residence across the street from the old Romney home, didn’t fare quite so well as the 1998 Democratic gubernatorial nominee.
Mitt’s time would come much later, and in another state. He first left the family home to go to college at Brigham Young University in Utah, naturally. He did two years of Mormon missionary service in France, where, his brother noted, he made few converts but did become fluent in French.
He returned, married his high-school sweetheart, Ann Davies (he went to Cranbrook, she to Kingswood), and never looked back. He finished college, where he was valedictorian, and took off for Harvard University. Harvard Law School is notoriously difficult. So is the M.B.A. program. Mitt Romney did both simultaneously, earning twin degrees in 1975.
After graduation, Mitt stayed on in Boston, fathering five strapping sons, working first for a management consulting firm, and then going on, with the blessings of his bosses, to start Bain Capital, a private equity investment firm. There, he became something beyond rich. Fortune magazine estimates his personal fortune at $400 million.