ATLANTA - Mitt Romney is starting to tweak perceptions of a presidential candidate he has previously ignored -- himself.
Romney has opened up with details about his personal life in recent days on the campaign trail, telling stories about his family and his faith. At an event here on Wednesday, he talked about how his work as a lay leader in the Mormon church helped him see the perils of unemployment.
"In my church, we don't have a professional ministry, and so people are asked to serve as the minister or the pastor of the congregation from time to time, and I had that privilege for, I think, over ten years," he said. "And in that capacity I had a chance to work with people who lost their jobs, in some cases, or were facing other financial distress, losing their homes and I found that those kinds of circumstances were not just about money or numbers, they were about lives and about emotions.
"Sometimes marriages suffered, sometimes people became depressed, clinically depressed, being out of work for a long time is a real threat, a real threat and challenge to human happiness, and I feel this president has let us down," he added.
Romney has mentioned his work at the church before, but usually only when he was asked to explain to audiences how he understood the challenges of poverty. But since a remark last week that suggested - out of context - that he wasn't concerned with the poorest Americans, the wealthy son of privilege is paying more attention to his personal story.
In a speech Tuesday night after losing three primary and caucus states to Rick Santorum, he related how his father - former Michigan Gov. George Romney -- sold paint during his honeymoon to cover the travel costs.
"Over the last 30 years, I can't tell you how many times I have heard that a situation is hopeless or a long list of reasons things can't be done, but I have never been good at listening to those people and I have always enjoyed proving them wrong," he said. "It's one of the lessons I learned from my dad. He never graduated college. He was a plaster carpenter. He was good. He could put a mouthful of nails and spit them forward."
Romney also invoked his father last week during an appearance in Las Vegas, tying him to his message of greater fiscal austerity. "Ever since I've been a kid, I've heard my dad talk about the need to balance budgets and to restrain spending," he said. "But ... it's really critical now."
Sarah B. Boxer contributed