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Contrary to popular late-night talk show monologue belief, Mr. Romney is not, in fact, an android, manufactured on the same Poli-Bot 2000 assembly line that produced the similarly awkward Al Gore.

Away from business and politics, Mr. Romney enjoys water-skiing. He is fond of peanut butter and honey sandwiches. According to an old friend and former neighbor, he is an energetic — if mediocre — tennis player. He knows the joy of 18 grandchildren and the pain of a multiple sclerosis diagnosis for his wife. He loves “The Sound of Music”; he’s a fan of Coen brothers movies; he is not a fan of changing dirty diapers, which give him “dry heaves.” He tears up at church, gets nervous on airplanes and absolutely, positively cannot stand being late.

In short, Mr. Romney is a regular, pants-on-one-leg-at-a-time human being, with hopes, fears and idiosyncratic quirks.

Not that many people outside his inner circle would know it.

“I’ve been to Mitt’s home, skied with him, gone to his kids’ weddings,” said Tom Stemberg, founder of the office supply company Staples Inc. and a longtime Romney friend. “I had breakfast with him a few weeks ago. The image you get on TV of this cold, calculating guy is as far from the truth as you could imagine.

“He’s a really nice guy, truly fun to be with. He loves laughing and making fun of himself. He’s a prankster — but the good ones I can remember I can’t repeat for a newspaper.”

True story: When Mitt and Ann Romney wed in 1969, they held their reception at a suburban Detroit country club. According to reports, a photographer asked to take a shot of the couple kissing.

“Not for cameras,” Mr. Romney said.

Despite spending the better part of the past decade in the public sphere, Mr. Romney remains something of an under-sharer.

In “The Real Romney,” a former aide describes Mr. Romney as “very engaging and charming in a small group of friends he’s comfortable with. When he’s with people he doesn’t know, he gets more formal. And if it’s a political thing where he doesn’t know anybody, he has a mask.”

Other Massachusetts officials and former business associates paint a portrait of a friendly, detached man who isn’t big on small talk, sometimes seems uninterested in other people and would rather spend time with his family than socializing for work.

Mr. Romney is active in his faith and proud of his family’s Mormon heritage. He seldom discusses religion on the campaign trail. Likewise, while examples of Mr. Romney’s personal charity abound — including the Christmas morning he brought presents to the home of an acquaintance whose sons had been injured badly in a car crash — the candidate prefers to keep those stories quiet.

During an interview with Fox News last year, Mr. Romney was asked a relatively innocuous question: Name the last book you’ve read or one you’re currently reading. Conceding that “I’m reading sort of a fun one right now,” he declined to answer the query.

“There’s the public Mitt and the private Mitt,” Mr. Helman said. “I’m told that within the Mormon community and with his family, he’s totally different. But he has long struggled in the political sphere to show a warm side of himself.

“I just don’t think it’s his nature, ultimately, to be a glad-handing politician. It’s not who he is or what he likes to do. Just watch him. He’s somebody you can imagine being a better president than a presidential candidate.”

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