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Romney would bring CEO eye to White House

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Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney holds on in the back of his campaign bus with aide Garrett Jackson, center, and senior adviser Kevin Madden, left, after a campaigning at Meadow Event Park in Richmond, Va., Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

BOSTON (AP) — Should he prevail Tuesday, Mitt Romney would bring a CEO's eye to the White House and a policy agenda based on a general set of principles and focused more on data than ideology.

He'll take charge of one of the world's largest bureaucracies as it faces a weak economy, swirling international tensions and intense polarization. And he doesn't plan to wait long to push his priorities, though he has yet to outline specific plans to address the country's challenges.

Chief on the "To-Do" list, out of necessity: dealing with the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and budget cuts. He also promises to start repealing and replacing the president's signature health care law and overhauling the nation's tax system. And he would likely have to work with a divided Congress to accomplish it all.

To get things done in messy Washington, Romney will rely on skills honed during a quarter century as he led a company, a state and an Olympic Games, earning a reputation among critics and backers alike as a manager who distributed responsibility to a small group of loyalists and coolly demanded detailed results.

But that's where the agreement ends.

Those closest to him describe him as deliberative, results-driven and cool under pressure.

"He wants to be able to measure things," says Kerry Healey, who was Romney's lieutenant governor for four years in Massachusetts and is now a campaign adviser. "And I have never seen him angry."

Longtime critics say he's slow to act, aloof and eager to avoid confrontation.

"It's fair to say he left the governor's office with very few, if any, new friends," says Phil Johnston, a Massachusetts Democratic Party chairman during Romney's term as governor. "He essentially operated as a loner, very much in a bubble, dealt well neither with Democrats nor Republicans."

Don't expect Romney to be a leader who will inspire those he governs with emotional speeches. He is deeply loyal and surrounds himself with a tight inner circle that has been at his side, in many cases, since his days as Massachusetts governor. He lacks the social instinct that allowed presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to connect with people and bring them together.

Indeed, it's almost always business for this man.

"He likes PowerPoint presentations because he prefers the simplicity," said longtime adviser Eric Fehrnstrom. "And if you're going to write a memo, he prefers that it be kept to one page."

While he has yet to release many details, the former CEO is crafting a comprehensive priority list.

Romney has assembled a growing transition team based in Washington — internally dubbed "the Readiness Project" — that's pre-emptively crafting an aggressive legislative agenda for his first 200 days. The team, using government-issued emails and office space, is quietly working with government officials and Capitol Hill to develop plans to prevent massive defense cuts and the expiration of Bush-era tax cuts.

Beyond that, the Republican's opening agenda includes approving the Keystone XL pipeline, initiating plans to label China a currency manipulator, crafting a bill to cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent and pursuing an as-of-yet-undrafted tax overhaul bill. He has also outlined other priorities he'll use to measure his progress — and of those around him — just as he did in Massachusetts.

Romney has faced repeated calls for specifics of his tax plan in particular. He's promising to cut tax rates for all without adding to the federal deficit. He says he'll eliminate or limit some personal deductions and exemptions, but won't say what those might be.

It's an aggressive agenda for a man who has been slow to build alliances on Capitol Hill, despite his near-daily campaign trail promises of recent weeks to work with both parties if elected.

"For those things to happen it's going to require something that Washington talks about, but hasn't done in a long, long time. And that's truly reaching across the aisle," Romney said at a Florida rally this week.

His campaign would not say if his transition team has begun reaching out to Democrats on Capitol Hill. It may be a tough task for a man who has struggled at times to win over even members of his own, fractured party, and, who as Massachusetts governor, had an insular reputation.

Personal relationships aside, aides describe a man who embraces difficult decisions — not that he always makes them quickly. To the dismay of some staffers, he delayed the selection of running mate Paul Ryan, the author of a controversial congressional budget plan, until after he returned from an overseas tour this summer. It was a pick that many aides privately opposed, but publicly embraced after it was finalized.

"Sometimes he'll sleep on a big decision," Fehrnstrom says. "He's not prone to snap judgments. He'll consider all the data."