Mitt Romney wants to make clear—respectfully but unmistakably—that he is not George W. Bush. Aboard his campaign plane last week in California, en route from Redding to Hayward, Jonathan Darman and Lisa Miller asked Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, what distinguishes him from the incumbent president. "Our life experience is quite different in terms of the kinds of enterprises we were involved in," Romney said. "I was 10 years in the consulting business. That means I tend to be highly analytical, data-driven, analysis-driven, so I follow a process for decision making."
Point taken, Governor. Another different life experience, one that separates Romney from the other major presidential contenders, is his particular faith. Romney is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a religion established in the 19th century in America by Joseph Smith, who Mormons believe received a new revelation from the risen Son of God. Known as Mormonism because the angel Moroni, who appeared to Smith in Palmyra, N.Y., in the 1820s, gave him a scripture called the Book of Mormon, this indigenous American religion emphasizes what might be called clean living—no alcohol, no tobacco, no coffee or tea—and focuses so intensely on the nuclear family that the church believes earthly kin will be attached to one another for eternity.
Our cover this week is not just another look at what Mormons believe or a speculative piece about whether a Mormon can win national office. It is, instead, a reported account of how the church helped make Romney the man he is—a man who, in a special NEWSWEEK Poll of likely Iowa caucus-goers, is leading the GOP field with 24 percent, followed by Fred Thompson (16 percent), Rudy Giuliani (13 percent) and Mike Huckabee (12 percent).
The Romney story is the result of a joint effort by Jon, our political correspondent, and Lisa, our religion editor. "It wasn't until I traveled to Salt Lake City recently for a Mormonism 101 press tour that I fully realized what a uniquely American religion Mormonism is," Lisa says. "It is, to overgeneralize, a religion that values industry and optimism, frugality and self-reliance, and is born of the pioneer spirit. I had read much about its oddball theology, but never anything about what it's really like to be a Mormon and to live Mormon values. All theologies (especially orthodox theologies) can seem oddball when you look at them closely, and Mormonism feels more eccentric, I think, in part because its history is so recent and its language is our own." (A word of disclosure: Scott Romney, who is Mitt Romney's older brother, is married to Lisa's husband's sister Ellen Rogers, and Scott Romney showed Lisa the Romney childhood sights in Michigan. The first time Lisa met Mitt Romney was last week, when she and Jon interviewed the candidate for NEWSWEEK.)
We have been particularly focused on the presidential race of late, with recent covers about Giuliani, Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Fred Thompson and Barack Obama, and major pieces about John Edwards, John McCain, Huckabee and others. We have devoted so much time and space to reported profiles because, to state the obvious, of the importance of 2008.
In the airborne interview, Romney said, "You're shaped by the experiences you have." And then he added: "Sometimes you learn from experience." To know someone's experience, then, is to glimpse, however dimly, how he was shaped, what he has learned—and how he might govern if he got the chance.