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Election 2012: How Romney might lead on new Washington terrain

Romney White House scenarios beyond a top-down CEO approach. A two-part election 2012 report profiles the stark differences and interesting similarities of a second-term Obama White House vs. a Romney White House – either of which would have to deal with a highly polarized Congress.

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In the Oct. 3 debate, Romney was asked about the criticism of his vagueness about which exemptions and deductions he would change in the tax code while lowering all rates. His answer suggested the vagueness was intentional, that it foretold openness to collaborating with Congress: "[In] my experience as a governor, if I come in and lay down a piece of legislation, and say, 'It's my way or the highway,' I don't get a lot done. What I'd do is the same way that [Democratic House Speaker] Tip O'Neill and [Republican President] Ronald Reagan worked together...."

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Analyses of Romney's style of governing Massachusetts reveal a man who took office with a chief-executive-officer approach to government, and learned that his top-down style didn't work. Some initiatives "vanished without a trace" because he hadn't cultivated relationships in the Democratic legislature, write Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman in "The Real Romney." "Romney, never a backslapper, invested little in building such ties – or even in getting to know the players."

The major exception came well into Romney's term, when he worked with Democratic state legislators to enact landmark health-care reform. But even there, the Globe reporters write, Romney left most of the horse-trading to others. Only when the effort appeared on the verge of failure did he intervene, at one point personally going on a Sunday morning to legislative leaders' homes to twist arms. He also got critical backing from the state's Democratic titan, the late Sen. Edward Kennedy.

When asked about Romney's ability to work across the aisle, his campaign is more likely to tout his economic record in Massachusetts – a balanced budget without raising sales or income taxes – than his health-care overhaul.

That points to one of the central conundrums of Romney's pitch for the White House: He can't talk much about his signature legislative achievement. As the model for "Obamacare," with its requirement that most individuals purchase insurance, "Romneycare" is anathema to Republican orthodoxy. During his first  debate with Obama, Romney did tout his health reform, emphasizing the states' right to choose their own path: "What we did in Massachusetts is a model for the nation, state by state." Lingering doubts about Romney will color his dealings with Congress if he's elected. He may, for example, find it impossible to give a little on tax increases in the name of reaching a "grand bargain" with Democrats on long-term deficit reduction – that is, if he did have a notion of reverting, even a bit, to his moderate approach.

The same would hold true for the "fiscal cliff"– the tax increases and spending cuts that will result if there's no action by the end of the year. If Romney is elected, Republicans have an incentive to delay a fix until after inauguration.

At that point, "it would be very difficult for Romney initially to do anything but give the Republican legislature its opportunity to produce a proposal that it can pass," says Cal Jillson, a presidential scholar at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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