Romney says he believes in building up America's
military [GALLO/GETTY]

Mitt Romney, governor of the eastern US state of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, is one of the frontrunners for the Republican presidential candidacy.

However, the practising Mormon has struggled to convince Republican would be voters that his faith would not prove an impediment should he gain the nomination.

From the start of his campaign, Romney has stayed to more traditional Republican positions.

He been outspoken in his opposition to same-sex marriages and as Massachusetts governor pushed legislation aimed at reinstating the death penalty in his state, but on this point was defeated.

In his bid for the candidacy, Romney also stated he wants to deregulate the health insurance market and believes that "the achievement gap in our schools is the civil rights issue of our time".

At home, he plans to tackle illegal immigration by securing the US-Mexico border and targeting "sanctuary cities" - reducing funding to cities which take a more relaxed attitude to illegal immigrants.

Abroad, Romney is also pushing a strong defence agenda, saying he believes in building up the US military and arguing for an increase of 100,000 troops and investment in the armed forces.

Support for Iraq

Romney supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003, as well as the so-called troop "surge" in 2007 and, if elected, he says he has no intention of "walking away".

Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Romney said: "All Americans want US troops to come home as soon as possible. But walking away now or dividing Iraq up into parts and walking away later would present grave risks to the United States and the world."

"There is no guarantee that the new strategy pursued by General [David] Petraeus [the US military commander in Iraq] will ultimately succeed," he writes, "but the stakes are too high and the potential fallout too great to deny our military leaders and troops on the ground the resources and the time needed to give it an opportunity to succeed."

Romney has not done military service himself and neither have his five sons.

Born in 1947, the son of a former Michigan governor, Romney became a successful businessman and co-founded the private equity firm, Bain Capital in 1984.

His political career took off in the wake of his successful tenure as CEO of the 2002 Winter Olympics.

When corruption allegations over how Salt Lake City came to hold the games surfaced in 1999, it looked as though corporate sponsors might pull out.

But Romney took over as CEO, introduced stricter controls and salvaged the games' reputation.

With the Olympics a success, he announced his candidacy for the Massachusetts governorship.

Strong on security

In terms of foreign policy, he believes "among our main challenges are an Iranian regime and an al-Qaeda network that developed while we let down our defenses."

Romney's political career took off following his
role in the 2002 Winter Olympics [GALLO/GETTY] 
Romney takes a strong line on Iran, pushing for tighter economic sanctions and and the increasing diplomatic isolation of Tehran, saying Iran's leaders "should be made to feel like those of Apartheid South Africa".

He has called for Arab states to join him in this efforts.

He also says on his website that Arab countries "should support Iraq's government; turn down the temperature of the Arab-Israeli conflict; stop the financial and weapons flows to Hamas and Hezbollah; and tell the Palestinians to drop their terror campaign and recognise Israel's right to exist".

Romney has given little indication how he will court the favour of Arab states on these points, though he clearly believes the US's current "hearts and minds" policy has failed.

Writing in Foreign Affairs magazine, Romney said: "We have had to look on as Hezbollah has brought health care and schools to areas of Lebanon. And guess who the people followed when the conflict between Israel and Lebanon broke out last summer?

"Likewise, the popularity of Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank should be no surprise given that the group has provided Palestinians with the basic services that neither the international community nor the Palestinian government could deliver."

'New Marshall plan'

He has said that, if elected, he will call a conference where, according to his website, "our Middle East allies and the major nations of the developed world" can discuss "a new type of Marshall Plan".

But ultimately he still gives greater emphasis to a militarily strong US that will deal with "violent, radical, fundamental Islam", which he calls "this century's nightmare".

However, in the US, Romney's own religious convictions led to a dip in his support in the build up to the primaries after his rivals questioned whether his faith would unduly influence his decisions.

The Republican candidate was forced to defend himself, saying that his religious beliefs would not influence him as president.

Source: Al Jazeera