Romney won and would go on to sign the 2004 state ban on assault weapons. He helped push through a law requiring that nearly everyone in the state obtain health care coverage, a model for what would become the nation’s 2010 health care overhaul spearheaded by President Barack Obama. Sen. Edward Kennedy, who trounced Romney in his 1994 Senate bid, was present for the state signing ceremony, where Romney called him a friend.
"People liked the fact he said he’d work with Democrats in the state, and he did. He was a real coalition builder," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Massachusetts.
By 2006, his second year in office, Romney had a new project: Winning the White House. According to a Boston Globe analysis, he logged all or part of 212 days out of state, developing a national network.
Romney quickly found business dealings like those of Bain are more transparent than they used to be in his father’s day, or at least people demand that they should be. The public wants to know more about the company’s inner workings, and Democrats demand to see more Romney tax returns. The Republican Party of his father, which embraced moderates like George Romney, now all but ostracizes them. The father’s off-the-cuff manner, which scuttled his presidential bid in 1967, is even more of a liability in this 24/7 media age.
So Mitt Romney characteristically adjusted. He had run for governor as a supporter of the state’s abortion rights law. But at a 2006 lunch that year with national reporters in Washington, he said he was "firmly pro-life" and "in a different place than I was 12 years ago."
Romney lost the 2008 nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain. This year, he made sure he wouldn’t be outflanked on the right.
He became more cautious and more conservative. He advocated "self-deportation" for illegal immigrants. In June, after securing the nomination, he took no position on Obama’s new directive allowing many younger immigrants to remain in the country.
None of this means Romney would govern as a doctrinaire conservative. History is full of presidential nominees who veered left or right to get the nomination, then hustled back to the middle in time for the November election.
By October, signs of the old Romney were slowly appearing. He modified his immigration position two days before the Oct. 3 debate, telling the Denver Post he would not overturn visas granted under Obama’s policy. He told the Des Moines Register on Oct. 9, "There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
If he returned to Romney Classic in the White House, he likely would embrace Washington’s power players in search of a deal.
At the first presidential debate, Romney insisted he would be able to work across the aisle in Washington – unlike Obama – the same way he said he did in left-leaning Massachusetts. “I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together,” he said. When he signed the state’s health law in 2006, among those present was Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whom Romney called a friend.
Democratic lawmakers in Massachusetts, however, said Romney took an all-business approach and showed little interest in getting to know them, reserving an elevator in the state House of Representatives for the governor by blocking it with a red rope.
New presidents tend to have honeymoon periods where the other party bows to the mandate and gives the new leader some of what he wants. George W. Bush got his huge tax cut with Democratic support in 2001. Bill Clinton got the Family Medical Leave Act approved in 1993 with Republican support.
Obama has had a rougher time; his signature proposals, the economic stimulus and health care, passed with virtually no Republican support.
History suggests Romney would at least try to follow the early Bush and Clinton models. Recent history suggests he’ll have a difficult time. But his people skills, and his ability to analyze, at least say he’d have a plan for getting things done.