Though he’s been on the public stage for more than a decade, Romney and his family still believe America doesn’t understand Mitt—a problem they blame both on political opponents and mistakes of past campaigns. In the public imagination, he remains an out-of-touch plutocrat who delights in laying off workers and earned the endorsement of the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns—an image, advisers grumble, that was created by Democrats. That narrative, cemented by the Obama campaign, infuriates Romney’s family and friends, who say the man they know has little in common with his fat-cat caricature. A third presidential run, they argue, offers as a chance for redemption, a last opportunity to finally show the country the real Romney: compassionate church leader, devoted patriot, and loving father. 

Unlike the political shifts of previous campaigns—from moderate to conservative and then even more conservative—this one is driven by not by polls but passion: a belief, closely shared among Mitt, his family and  closest advisors, in the reality of “the real Mitt.” More than a few in his party, along with many former supporters, believe this is a doomed and quixotic venture. But among the Romney cultists, it’s an article of faith that this latest incarnation is the one the country has been waiting all these years to see. “It’s just not his style to say, ‘Look at me,’” said Tom Rath, a long-time Romney political adviser. “Some of the things that are most hurtful for those of us who do know him is the person they were talking about is not the person we know.” 

His former running mate echoes this sentiment. “I know who Mitt Romney is. I know what’s in his heart,” Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan said last week on MSNBC. “This is a man who is deeply concerned about those who are less fortunate.” In private, friends boast about Romney’s charitable giving, saying he makes contributions quietly to avoid publicity. They joke about his penny-pinching, love of Costco’s shirts, penchant for repairing gloves with duct tape, and fondness for honey and peanut butter sandwiches. (A Romney mantra recalled by friends: “Just because you can afford something doesn’t mean you should buy it.”)