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It was Lenore who gave Mitt a model for engaging in public life. She was poised, articulate, strikingly good-looking and able to deflect unpleasant questions with a reproachful "Good grief!" She lived in an age when women in politics still released their glove and shoe sizes (6 and 7AAA), but she valued her privacy, holding the public at arm's length behind an unruffled facade. Whereas her husband relished a good fight, she sidestepped and looked for common ground with her critics. Mitt displayed much the same temperament as he grew up--cautious and increasingly self-controlled. In politics he adopted his mother's practice of melting away from battle whenever possible. He had learned to take a punch but seldom threw one.
Mitt's "mother was more the diplomat," says a close relative who asked for anonymity because the Romney 2012 campaign staff admonishes family members not to give unauthorized interviews. "Mitt's more like his mom in that. She would just smooth things over, try to make things right."
"She led a valiant campaign with energy and enthusiasm and won a tough primary," Mitt tells TIME. "I watched my mom and dad not participate in the game of politics as politicians ... They had a vision for what they wanted to do. They expressed that. If they won, they were pleased. If they didn't, they were also pleased."
Keith Molin, who joined the Romney entourage in 1962 and rose to senior posts in Michigan government, sees Mitt in different terms. As a teenager, Mitt "would wince when there would be criticism of his father," he says, while "his father would salivate. For George Romney, the sale starts when the customer says no. I never felt that Mitt was really comfortable there." Instead, Mitt learned his mother's finesse with hostile questions, looking for an answer "where you had essentially the same purpose and point," Molin says. "In 1970, he saw his mother subjected to just a brutal campaign, where she got as much opposition from the far-right wing of her own party as Mitt is getting this time from the Tea Party and the hardcore conservatives 42 years later. He's trying to avoid confrontation, much the way she did."
Lenore and George
Stories about Mitt Romney's mother most often begin with the man who courted her. George Romney fell for Lenore LaFount on a shared car ride to Salt Lake City while she played ukulele in the backseat. She was 15 years old. He was two years older, a fellow student at Latter-day Saints High School and, even so, an unlikely prospect for a lively, lovely, book-smart girl from a prosperous Utah family. George was skinny and poor and a lackluster student, but he had a matchless force of will. He commenced a pursuit akin to a military campaign, infiltrating notes into her locker and bombarding her with slippers full of candy. He carried her bodily off the high school dance floor "when he thought she had danced too long with another boy," says George Weeks, who knew the Romneys well and wrote a chapter about George in a book about Michigan's governors.