“He’s almost too good-looking. He’s almost too polished,” said Brian Ballard, a Florida fundraiser for Romney who supported Romney rival John McCain in 2008. Ballard said he wanted to believe the caricature of Romney but being around him revealed a different person. “There’s plenty of time for him to show what he’s made of.”
Romney’s business career has become an endless source of negative attacks by Obama’s campaign and he doesn’t talk about it much, even though it is his chief credential as a turnaround specialist. The work also holds stories of generosity and warmth.
When the daughter of a co-worker disappeared in New York City, Romney marshalled his Bain Capital employees to fan out across the city. Bain owned a stake in the drug stores Duane Reade and put fliers in customers’ bags. The girl was eventually found.
“It would have been easy to say, ‘We hope things go well and we’ll keep her in our prayers,’” said Bob White, a longtime friend. “But he felt he needed to do something. He steps forward in situations where he believes he can make a difference. I think that’s the reason why he’s running for president.”
Similarly, Romney has avoided talking about his faith, burned by the experience of 2008 when evangelical voters in Iowa used it against him, though he was also overshadowed by a more authentic seeming Mike Huckabee.
The political calculation gnaws at his friends, Mormons and otherwise, who say his faith holds stories of dedication to community.
A Mormon leader, Romney counseled hundreds of teens and made a point in Boston of never missing the Tuesday night sessions, even if it meant taking a red eye from a business trip out west. In 2010, Romney gave nearly $3 million to charity, half to the Mormon church.
Some acts were barely noticeable; once when a storm ripped through the area, Romney organized a crew to fix a damaged home. Friends say Romney has never touted his deeds but is hurting himself.
“Of course, there’s a commitment to Mormon theology but the involvement in the church on a day-to-day basis is fundamentally what I’ll simply call Christian service,” said Grant Bennett of Belmont, Mass., who has known Romney for more than 30 years.
“I think Mitt has analyzed the election and concluded the primary issues relate to economy and jobs,” Bennett added. “It’s not surprising to me he is doggedly staying on cue. But we ultimately elect a human being. It’s sad because Mitt Romney is a much warmer, much more wonderful human being than the public perception.”
Romney was born into comfort, the spoils of his father’s rags-to-riches tale. As the ’60s counter-culture began to bubble up, Romney was tucked away at a prestigious prep school. During the height of unrest over Vietnam, he served as a Mormon missionary in France.
He idolized his father, an assertive figure who grew up poor, built a career in the car industry, then entered politics as a moderate Republican. George Romney was warm and engaging. He spoke his mind and took clear stands.
During the 1964 Republican National Convention he led his son, then 17, out in protest after the party refused to adopt civil rights initiatives in its platform. His 1968 presidential hopes were doomed when he said he no longer supported the war, saying he had been “brainwashed” by military leaders in Vietnam.