Or that as a volunteer lay pastor of his Mormon congregation, Romney spent years counseling neighbors on their marriages and adoptions, helping the unemployed feed their families, and ministering to the sick and the addicted.
The lesser-known stories have surfaced occasionally in profiles of the former Massachusetts governor. But they have not blossomed into any kind of gentler portrait of Romney, who emerged as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Tuesday after challenger Rick Santorum suspended his bid.
With the campaign’s focus shifting toward independent voters, especially women, a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this week found that President Obama holds a 2-to-1 advantage as the more friendly and likable of the two candidates.
The long and divisive primary campaign has left Romney shackled by a caricature of a stilted, distant multimillionaire — a quandary that increasingly frustrates some of his advisers and even his wife, Ann.
When Ann Romney recently was asked about her husband coming off as stiff, she said, “I guess we better unzip him and let the real Mitt Romney out, because he is not.”
She told a Baltimore radio station: “It is so funny to me that that is the perception out there because he is funny, he is engaging, he is witty. He is always playing jokes. When I met him as a teenager, he was the life of the party.”
That Romney’s softer side has not stuck with voters may be partly his campaign’s fault. Until now, his advisers thought his personal anecdotes got in the way of his economic message — that tales of altruism would appear frivolous amid an anemic economic recovery.
“This is not a ‘Seinfeld’ race,” chief strategist Stuart Stevens said. “This is not a race about nothing.”
“People care about what you’re going to do for them,” he added. “Will you be a strong leader? Will you be someone who is going to help me get a job? Will you be someone who’s going to change the direction of the country? How off-putting is it when you meet someone for the first time and they pull out their family pictures and say, ‘Let me tell you about my trip to the Grand Canyon’? No, you talk about mutual interests.”
Knowing they are working with a private and sometimes uncomfortable man, Romney’s advisers have not tried too hard to shape the public image of his personality. Instead, they have emphasized his managerial competency and economic plans.
But the reality is that, in modern presidential campaigns, voters expect a level of humanity and verve from their candidates. They gravitate toward those who seem relatable, as former Democratic nominees John F. Kerry and Al Gore learned the hard way. In every election since 1992, the more dynamic and down-to-earth candidate has won.