This story was written by CBSNews.com political reporter Scott Conroy.
spent over $35 million of his own money and more than a year of his life on a bid for the presidency that fell short and ended abruptly. The former Massachusetts governor is not one to wallow in failure, but even for the incurably optimistic Romney, portraying his unsuccessful run in a positive light would seem an impossible task. Still, he manages.
"In some respects it's ideal," Romney said only half-jokingly as he sat down for an exclusive national interview with CBSNews.com before addressing the crowd at the opening of John McCain's Great Lakes regional headquarters. "Get out of the race just before summer so you can spend some time with the family at the beach."
Despite his deep summer tan, Romney has been anything but a beach bum as of late. Since dropping out of the Republican race in February, he has gone from beingfiercest rival to one of the Arizona senator's most visible surrogates. What was inconceivable during the height of their primary battles, the prospect of a McCain/Romney ticket, is now a real possibility.
The most obvious assets that Romney would bring to the Republican ticket include his economic expertise, fundraising prowess and potential to give McCain a boost in more than one battleground state. But a less talked about plus side to a Romney vice presidential candidacy is that despite his perpetually sunny demeanor, the former Massachusetts governor is not afraid to unleash razor-sharp political attacks against the opposition.
"This is not the time for an amateur," Romney said of presumptive Democratic nominee. "This is the time for a tested, proven professional to lead our country." (
Romney brims with confidence and is almost always unflappable. The McCain campaign has taken advantage of Romney's willingness to take the offensive by encouraging him to make TV appearances on the senator's behalf.
The ability to stay on message is an asset for any vice presidential prospect, but that very trait also led to criticisms during Romney's campaign that he could come across as impersonal or robotic.
Asked what his father George, who as Governor of Michigan during the 1960's was a champion of civil rights, would have made of an African-American candidate winning a major party nomination, Romney refused to go off script, even for a moment, to acknowledge Obama's historic achievement.
"I think most Americans do what the Democrats did in their primary, which is they look at the person and say who can be the right leader at a particular point in time, and they make that decision without regard to gender or race or faith," Romney said.
The kindest words of praise that Romney allowed himself to bestow upon Obama were "charming" and "well-spoken".
It wasn't so long ago that Romney's more scathing attacks were directed at Republicans, rather than Democrats. Even during the testiest moments of the primary campaign, Romney always insisted that he and McCain liked one another and shared no personal animosities. But that was a difficult concept to believe whenever the two men shared a tension-filled stage at one of their many debates.
At a fundraiser in Albuquerque on Monday, McCain said that he and Romney are now "good friends." For his part, Romney has gone from calling McCain "virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton or Obama on a number of major issues" to praising his policies across the board.
"I think both of these guys are professional politicians-they get it," Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis said. "You get caught up in the primary and there's always emotions but a lot of that I think was more with the staffs than the candidates themselves."
Romney and those closest to him have insisted that he's not campaigning for the vice presidency and that the possibility of being asked to serve is highly unlikely. One former senior campaign adviser who remains in frequent contact with Romney insists that the former governor "really believes he's got zero chance" of being tapped to join the ticket and that he wouldn't have much of a desire to play second fiddle to McCain.
Romney said that he hasn't been asked to provide any personal information to the McCain campaign. But how much does a man who has already run for president and whose biggest vice is the occasional bowl of Count Chocula need to be vetted any further?
"The reason you pick Romney is you want a very solid, competent debater, a good governing partner, someone who'll do what you say, and someone who can communicate on economics," CBS News chief political consultant Marc Ambinder said.
As a successful venture capitalist, Romney speaks about the economy with level-headed authority speckled with his trademark optimism. Though he has an affinity for facts and figures, Romney has the ability to break down complicated economics into simple terms.
"This is not in people's heads-this is reality. People are hurting across the country," Romney said, rebutting Phil Gramm's judgment that the U.S. is a "nation of whiners."
Asked for his reaction to the news of downsizing at General Motors, the man who once gained traction by accusing McCain of exuding "Washington-style pessimism" on the automobile industry was as bullish about the business as ever.
"There's no reason why the American automobile industry can't be just as competitive as that coming from Japan, for instance," he said. "The Japanese are building automobiles right here in the United States. Why can they build cars here when we can't build cars here?" (
Romney has already been an active fundraiser for the presumptive Republican nominee, but adding the former governor to the ticket could give McCain the extra leverage he needs to bring in enough cash to compete with Obama's record-breaking fundraising, especially in Michigan, where the Romney name is especially salient.
"I don't think anybody's holding back," Anuzis said of Republican donors in Michigan. "But there's a difference between contributing and being part of the team and raising money enthusiastically."
Even with so many qualities that could potentially benefit the ticket, the fact remains that Republican voters already had a chance to back Mitt Romney, and most of them chose not to. Throughout the latter part of 2007, Romney held strong leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, which seemed to evaporate as voters there honed in on other candidates.
Romney's Mormon faith remains a political question mark as the vice presidential guessing game rages on. Though he has always espoused his conviction that voters have gotten beyond what he calls "the politics of identity," Romney seemed to acknowledge for the first time in his interview with CBSNews.com that his religion was indeed a handicap in the Iowa caucuses, when evangelical Christians turned out in droves to vote for Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist minister.
"In the big primaries like California and Florida, Michigan, New Hampshire, I don't think faith played a particular role in those events," he said. "And perhaps in some small segment or in a caucus or two, that may play a larger role because there are much smaller numbers of people."
CBSNews.com tracks the veepstakes buzz and ranks the top contenders.
Even if he is more interested in the vice presidency than he lets on, Romney is not going to sit around waiting for the call. Next month he plans to attend the Summer Olympics in Beijing, which take place right around the time when McCain is expected to announce his running mate.
But until that day comes, don't expect Romney to weigh in on his chances.
"That's a topic I don't speculate about," he said.
Click below to watch the entire CBSNews.com interview with Mitt Romney.
By Scott Conroy