About 100 metres from Mitt Romney's Belmont Hills condo, just outside Boston, Ron Sacca wears a homemade cardboard sign unabashedly boasting that the former governor will be the next U.S. president.

"If you met him, you never forget him," says Sacca, who owns a pizzeria that the Romney family used to eat at. "I'm just glad I will have lived long enough to see him in the White House."

Now protected by a Secret Service agent in a black Ford SUV, the condo in this private community is where the Romneys call home in Massachusetts. They have residences in other states, but here at least they are known to frequent many of the local shops and restaurants in the area.

Sacca's high opinion of the Republican presidential candidate is shared by Matthew Jamieson, who owns the Mobil station where Romney would bring his car to get gas and says the former governor was an astute businessman who was good for the state.

But it is not a universal view of Romney here in his home state, nor of his years in the governor's chair.

"I think he left the state in really bad shape," says Nance Lowe, who lives in nearby Arlington. "I think that he used the governorship as a stepping stone to the presidency."

How successful was Romney's stewardship of Massachusetts from 2003-2007? Opinions are everywhere here these days, and so are the clues as to how he might govern as president should he sweep Barack Obama aside in today's presidential election.

'Data driven'

Asked how Romney performed as governor, supporters and critics alike describe him as someone who is "data driven" and likes to surround himself with smart people.

Eric Kriss, one of the founders of Bain Capital, the private investment company where Romney made his fortune, was secretary of administration and finance in Romney's Massachusetts' administration.

He says Romney was very collaborative, grappled with issues in a group setting, and liked to play the devil's advocate. 

"I don't think he was comfortable making any decision unless he could hear opposing points of view," Kriss told CBC News.

"He was not the kind of executive who had Yes men around him.

"At the end of the day, I think he relies heavily on data and analysis, a method that served him well in business.

"Opinion matters much less. He likes to know the true facts on the ground."

CEO of the statehouse

During this campaign, Romney has promised, as Obama did four years ago, to break the partisan gridlock in Washington, holding up his success of having worked with a state legislature that was 85 per cent Democratic as proof of his abilities.

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But that relationship was strained at times, more so even than it was with his Republican predecessors, observers here say.

"He governed like the legislature were board members and he was the chief executive officer and the chief financial officer," Stephen Brewer, a Democratic state senator who worked with Romney in those days, said in an interview. "It was my way or the highway."

"We've had 16 years of Republican governors," Brewer said. "Out of the four he was the most aloof, detached."

It is a view taken up by Maurice Cunningham, associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, who says Romney can be a rather remote figure who is not comfortable with the give and take of the Massachusetts statehouse.

"I think he had distant relations with most of them," Cunningham says, referring to the former government and the elected legislators at the time. "He wouldn't know their names. And that's off-putting to many politicians."

Not a back-slapper

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Ron Sacca, a pizzeria owner near Belmont Hills, Mass., really likes Mitt Romney. (Mark Gollom / CBC)

Romney's aloofness may be part of his character, or it may have something to do with the unusual clubbiness of a state legislature.

"He's not a backslapping politician. He doesn't enjoy the personal side of politics," says Peter Ubertaccio chair of political science and international studies at Massachusetts Stonehill College.

But Ubertaccio also notes that Massachusetts politics "is still very much an old boys' network. Romney never really fit into that" like some of his Republican predecessors, notably former governor William Weld.

For his part, Weld praised Romney as a born executive. "In terms of getting things done, and attracting high quality people to the administration, governor Romney had very few equals," Weld told CBC News.

As for being personally disengaged from the legislative elements of governing, that is a complaint that is often levelled at Obama as well.

"I think that in some ways the temperaments of the two men are very similar," Ubertaccio says. "And with Romney the danger is that he will bring to the White House that same mentality.

"He will find that if it was difficult enough in the Massachusetts legislature that it will be darn near impossible in Washington to come in from an outside perspective, with not having the relations, and attempt to approach politics in a very aloof, CEO manner, which is simply not how the system works."

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Mitt Romney, taking the oath of office as Massachusetts governor in January 2003. (Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

Both Cunningham and Ubertaccio heaped praise on Romney for his ability to get health-care legislation passed, legislation that Romney has since tried to distance himself from.

"He worked very closely with the Senate president and Speaker of the House to make that happen and I think a lot of folks were surprised by the intensity, by the level of interest he took and by the political savvy he displayed by shepherding that legislation through," Ubertaccio says. "It was a complicated process but showed Romney at his legislative best."

He also went after political patronage with real zeal. And when a roof tile fell from the Williams Tunnel and killed a woman in a car, he showed real empathy and seized the moment of the crisis, Cunningham said.

"You could see how capable he was. And people said 'if only we had this guy for four years.'

"But that was the disappointment, we didn't have this guy for four years. He was a pretty decent governor for a couple years and then he was off to do other things, he was off to run for president."