Mr. Romney appeared at peace in relative obscurity, friends say, though whenever he would inch back into the public consciousness, the megaphone he retained pleased him. “He was surprised that he could still get on any TV show,” Josh Romney said.
He flirted briefly with a run for president in 2016, before reconsidering. The Senate opening, with Orrin G. Hatch stepping away after seven terms, made him think harder, with bipartisan encouragement.
In fact, a funny thing had happened to Mr. Romney when he receded from view: People got to know him better. A documentary in 2014, “Mitt,” captured shades of character that his campaigns never could, for all the millions spent on messaging. He was warm, self-deprecating, cleareyed about his weaknesses. Mr. Romney had long been such a stylistic throwback — a man whose idea of profanity was “H-E-double-hockey-sticks,” edging into a theater of insults — that his earnestness qualified as refreshing. He does not swear. He does not drink. He does not age.
“People need to see the real Mitt,” said Fraser Bullock, who worked with Mr. Romney at Bain Capital and as a top lieutenant for the 2002 Olympics. And the Senate campaign, friends believe, is a last chance to do it right.
They do not fault him for de-emphasizing his past rejection of Mr. Trump, observing that he has not explicitly disavowed the remarks, either. Mr. Romney recently told NBC News that he does not consider Mr. Trump a role model for his grandchildren.
“He’s not running against Donald Trump. He’s running for Mitt Romney,” said Thomas Rath, a former top aide on his presidential campaigns. “I haven’t heard him say that he withdraws his previous reservations.”
A family thing
“Look at the ducks. Look at the ducks. There’s a duck! There’s a duck. Hello, ducks.”
His wife was freezing, damp babies were crying, and Mr. Romney was admiring farm animals.