Artifact Eight: Romney Takes On Kennedy

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In the lead-up to The Choice 2012, FRONTLINE’s hotly anticipated dual biography of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, we’re publishing “The Artifacts of Character,” a series of rarely seen objects that elucidate key moments and experiences in the candidates’ lives. Each Monday and Thursday for the next three weeks, we’ll publish a new artifact for each candidate.

Video: Pool Footage

Time was running out for Mitt Romney on Oct. 25, 1994. With Election Day fast approaching, a once-close Senate race seemed to be slipping away. His opponent, Ted Kennedy, was on the offensive over Romney’s record at Bain Capital, hammering him over layoffs at an Indiana factory owned by the firm. Romney had left Bain before the job cuts were announced, but by that evening’s debate, Kennedy’s strategy appeared to be working. He had opened up an 18-point lead.

Romney entered the race having never run for elected office, and over the course of the hour-long debate, his inexperience showed. Kennedy criticized Romney for being “multiple choice” on the issue of abortion. When Romney later questioned Kennedy over a blind trust he owned, Kennedy shot back, “Mr. Romney, the Kennedys are not in public service to make money. We have paid too high a price.” The audience erupted with applause.

Arguably the most pivotal exchange came on health care reform. It began with a question from Kennedy over Romney’s plan and its impact on the Massachusetts budget. “I don’t have a cost of my program,” Romney said, soon adding, “I think it’s a wonderful idea to take it through piece by piece.”

Kennedy pounced. “That’s what you have to do as a legislator,” he said.

“In that moment … people saw the experience gap,” Romney biographer Scott Helman told FRONTLINE. “Here was somebody who had been in the Senate for 30-some years, and here was somebody who didn’t really know how lawmaking worked.”

Romney never recovered. When voters cast their ballots that November, Kennedy took 58 percent of the vote. Shortly after the loss, Romney was back at Bain. His return would not last long, though. His next stop was Salt Lake City and the 2002 Olympic games.

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