NO politician I've met in many years of writing about campaigns has had more zip than George Romney, a three-term governor of Michigan in the early 1960s and a presidential aspirant in 1968.
Romney was indefatigable. He played 18 holes of golf before breakfast, followed by a long day of traveling, handshaking, and speaking. I once tried to interview him as he sped by foot from one corner of a large auto plant to another. He left me behind.
When I would finally get Romney cornered, he wouldn't let me get a question in edgewise. ``Listen,'' he would say, jabbing me with his glasses or pen. And then, after a torrent of words, he would rush off somewhere.
So it was natural that I watched Romney's son, Mitt, carefully the other morning as he mixed with reporters before the start of a Monitor breakfast. He is the fellow who many savvy politicians are saying has a chance to take Teddy Kennedy's Senate seat away from him this fall. ``I've been keeping a close eye on you,'' a reporter said to the candidate as the breakfast began, ``and you seemed a little more laid back than your father.'' Mr. Romney replied, ``In no way can I be the bumblebee in a jar that my father is.''
Romney is a managing partner of Bain Capital Inc., a venture capital firm in Massachusetts that has started or helped to grow more than 60 companies. His work at Bain Capital has also resulted in the creation of thousands of jobs. Observers in the business world score him high for ``innovative thinking'' and ``leadership.''
Romney must win the Republican primary in September before taking on Kennedy. The polls show him well out in front. And Kennedy seems to be conceding that Romney will be his opponent by singling him out for strong criticism. Recently he said that Romney couldn't understand the needs of the poor because he was so rich. Mentioning this at the breakfast, Romney said, ``Has Kennedy no shame? He can buy and sell me. If I worked for the rest of my life, I might have half of what he inherited.''
The 25th anniversary of Chappaquiddick has reminded voters of that tragedy where Kennedy drove his car off Dike Bridge and his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, drowned. Kennedy, who did not call for help or report the incident until 10 hours later, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of the accident. The senator has issued an anniversary-related statement in which he says, ``I bear full responsibility for the tragedy, and I always will.''
George Bush tried to raise the character issue against Bill Clinton, but it didn't change enough minds. Massachusetts polls indicate that Kennedy die-hards are sticking with him. And he is reclaiming some support by apparently pulling his life together in recent months.