In 1970, Republican party bosses nominated Mitt Romney's mother Lenore for the U.S. Senate in Michigan. Lenore was anti-Vietnam war, reluctantly in favor of legalizing abortion (at the time, a federal crime), pro-environment, and pro-national health care. Her 23-year old son worked tirelessly for her campaign, more than he had ever worked for his father. Lenore's ideas, and her approach to politics and people, seems to have influenced her son the most.
Lenore Romney's senate nomination was partly a result of Republican insider politics. George Romney, former Michigan governor, and at one time, dominating front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, was serving unhappily in the Nixon Administration as Secretary of Housing & Urban Development and Nixon wanted him out. Instead of running himself, George Romney decided that his wife would make the better candidate.
After a contentious Republican primary, Lenore became Michigan's first female candidate for national office. If elected, she would have been the third woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. Few films of Lenore Romney are available, but this 1962 video on behalf of her husband's presidential campaign unearthed by Buzzfeed in early September shows her warmth and personality.
In June, Time mined its archives and published a retrospective about Lenore Romney and her run for the senate.
Lenore was uncomfortable with the rough-and-tumble of campaigning, and used a combination of charm and sincerity to respond to critics. She responded cheerfully to the cries of factory workers that she should "get back in the kitchen," but had no response to a farmer who declared, ""Ma'am, we don't vote for women or niggers in this county."
Michigan pols who knew both George and Lenore Romney told Time that they were uncertain whether or not Mitt Romney took more after his mother or his father, but suspected he was more like his mother than his combative, outspoken father. George Romney relished opposition and never backed down from a position, including his spectacularly costly gaffe of opposing the Vietnam War by saying he'd been "brainwashed."
In a campaign year where women's issues have been often portrayed as uterus and ovary-oriented, I found something personal of interest when researching Lenore Romney and her relationship with her youngest son. Reluctantly in favor of legalized abortion, Lenore called Mitt her "miracle baby." After the birth of her third child, Mitt's older brother George Scott, doctors warned Lenore she might not survive another pregnancy. She became pregnant anyway, although she was later required to have a hysterectomy.
I, too, was a "miracle baby." My mother had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer two years before she became unexpectedly pregnant with me. She stopped taking early chemotherapy and radiation treatments in the hope that I would survive, and I was born three months prematurely. Three months after my birth, my mother, who was one of the first females in animation and an Academy Award-winning art director, did die of pancreatic cancer.
I could not help but think of my mother, and my aunt, and all of the other courageous women in my family, when reading about Lenore Romney, who graciously endured daily slurs, constant condescension, and open insults in her senate campaign. Her ideas about health care certainly gave rise, years after her death, to "Romneycare" in Massachusetts.
I thought of the irony in the difference between the life and death choices that Lenore and my mother went through and the pathetic substitute for "women's issues" that I saw on stage at the Democratic National Convention, and in their constant single-issue electioneering. Lenore Romney (and I'm certain, my mother as well) have my identical position on abortion. We cannot make that choice for others, do not (in the exact words of Lenore Romney) believe the government can legislate morality, and would prefer to see pregnancies prevented rather than aborted. For ourselves, we would choose the baby's life over our own. All three of us have made this identical choice.
I cannot say whether Mitt Romney is the right candidate for president or not, but I can say that his family's story deserves to be discussed and understood. I can say that his mother's behavior and statements reflect the best in the American character.