Michael Valanzola first met Mitt Romney a decade ago, when he was running for governor of Massachusetts. When Romney swung by a VFW hall for an event, Valanzola, then a 17-year-old high-school student who had followed Romney’s career since he was in fourth grade and Romney was fighting Ted Kennedy for a Senate seat, was finally presented with the opportunity to meet Romney in person. The two talked about school and what college Valanzola would attend, and the young man was impressed. Romney, he recalls, had the qualities of a statesman, but he was friendly too. “I looked right at my mother,” Valanzola says, “and I said, ‘That man could be president one day.’”
On Thursday night, Valanzola will enjoy a front-row seat, from which he will watch Romney deliver his convention speech. He will be joined in the convention center by the other 40 members of the Massachusetts delegation, many of whom remember Romney as the Republican governor who regularly tussled with the heavily Democratic legislature to bring some fiscal sanity to the state.
“He did a lot of great things, especially with the challenges of facing an entirely Democratic House and Senate,” avers delegate Janet Fogarty, noting that Romney cut taxes 19 times and took steps to ensure that the state’s unemployment rate stayed low.
“It’s gridlock in Washington. We can’t get anything done,” comments Patricia Jennings, another delegate. But Romney “has the ability to get things done and work across the aisle, and that’s exactly what this country needs right now.”
“I thought he did an admirable job as governor under difficult circumstances,” says Bradley Jones, who served as minority leader of the Massachusetts House while Romney was governor. Why? Romney “worked with legislators on both sides of the aisle, unlike the current governor.”
Still, Jones did not anticipate that the governor would one day be on the cusp of the presidency. “I just couldn’t see that on the horizon,” he comments. “But I’m beyond thrilled.”
Paul Frost, a Massachusetts state representative from Auburn, signed a letter in 2002, while Romney was rescuing the Salt Lake City winter Olympics, urging him to run for governor — which he did that November. “We needed him in Massachusetts to turn things around, to help create jobs, to fix our state’s economy and get spending under control,” says Frost. “And he did that. He lived up to all those expectations as our governor.”
Many of the delegates would like to see Romney’s personality become better known to the American public. “I would like people to get to know Mitt Romney more intimately,” says Jones.
“He’s such a warm and compassionate man,” remarks Fogarty. “A lot of people don’t realize that about him. He’s just a genuinely great guy on a personal level.”
“You walk away feeling like a million bucks, just to shake the guy’s hand,” Valanzola says. “He has an ability in person that doesn’t always come across on television. I hope more people will get to see that this week.”
Not all the delegates are equally thrilled, however. Aaron McKeon, who voted for Ron Paul in the primary, is leaning toward voting for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian-party candidate, in November. “At the end of the day,” he comments, “I don’t see a huge amount of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.” But Michael Morales, another Massachusetts delegate who voted for Ron Paul, sees matters differently: “In the primary you vote your heart, right? And then in the general, you stick with the party. Romney is the guy who won, and the goal is to beat Obama.”
Overall, though, the delegation is “really excited to support him,” says delegate Amy Carnevale. “We’ve seen him serve as governor of our state, and we really know what he can do for our nation because he turned our economy around in Massachusetts. We want to see him do the same for the country.”
— Katrina Trinko is an NRO reporter.