For people familiar with him outside of politics, candidate Romney is hard to reconcile with the man they once knew.
As a kid in Michigan, Sidney Barthwell Jr., a high school classmate, recalled Romney as a prankster driving doughnuts in snowy parking lots. At Stanford, he lured rival University of California students into a trap in which his buddies “shaved their heads and painted them red,” according to a 1970 speech at Brigham Young University by his father, George Romney. George Keele, who served his mission with Romney in France, recalled Romney’s talent for teaching through example and without piety, as well as his ability to laugh.
One night in Bayonne, in southern France, Keele answered a knock on the door and saw two men, their faces hidden by sheets, ordering him in French to put his hands behind his back, turn around and not utter a word. Keele fled out the back door only to hear Romney, his mask removed, laughing uproariously in the house.
“George Romney was gregarious — Mitt Romney is probably three times as gregarious as his dad,” said Keele, who said that Romney resisted urging Ann to convert to Mormonism because he “has always been someone who doesn’t use his eminent powers of persuasion to wield unrighteous dominion.”
Like many people who knew Romney in the past, Keele has a hard time recognizing the candidate on the trail.
“Mitt Romney is capable of relaxing,” he said. “The stiffness that people see is simply Mitt trying too hard.”
Ultimately, Christensen thinks Romney is trapped in a sort of Catch-22. He is clearly at pains trying to relate to an electorate that does not share his wealth or upbringing, but voters seem unwilling to let Romney be the wealthy, devout, model family man that his supporters describe.
“I think our inclination is that we see somebody who is playing at a different level: ‘They can’t be real. They are not like me,’ ” Christensen said. “It just hurts because you have this real guy.”