When Douglas Gilbert photographed Lenore Romney’s U.S. Senate campaign for Look Magazine in August of 1970, little did he know that one of his unused images would end up on the cover of TIME 42 years later. “At the time I was hoping for LOOK magazine,” he says. “Certainly not TIME! It is a nice surprise.”
Gilbert spent some three days trailing Lenore and Mitt through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula the summer Lenore tried to unseat incumbent Democratic Sen. Phil Hart, for whom the Hart Senate Office building is now named. Many people know that Mitt’s father, three-term Michigan governor George Romney, ran for President and lost in 1968, but few know the story of his mother’s own campaign for high office and how it shaped her son’s presidential run in 2012. Fewer still have ever seen Gilbert’s photos of mother and son—those collected here did not run, except for one (slide #4), in LOOK’s story, and the negatives ended up buried in the Library of Congress archives until TIME discovered them in May. In an ironic turn of history, Gilbert’s portrait of newlywed 23-year-old Mitt and his mother strategizing in her campaign hotel room exactly captures a central theme of Mitt’s current cautious campaign style, the subject of TIME’s cover story this week, “Dreams of His Mother.”
Lenore’s losing run deeply shaped her son, perhaps even more than her husband’s failed presidential bid. Lenore initially called her campaign “a love affair between me and the people of Michigan.” But a month after Gilbert shot these images, her tune had turned. “It’s the most humiliating thing I know of to run for office,” she said. And Mitt, who was at her elbow at every turn that summer, felt the effects.
Nevertheless, Gilbert saw the charismatic Lenore that Mitt championed. “I found her to be very personable and friendly. I never really felt any pushback from her at all,” he remembers. “She attracted people.” On the mama’s boy, Gilbert’s memories are more vague. “I remember mostly Lenore. Mitt was, as far as I knew, the college-aged son who was helping out,” he recalls. “I knew it was a funny name, Mitt, but I didn’t know him beyond that.”
Mitt however was making a name for himself on the campaign trail even then. He traveled to each of Michigan’s 83 counties on his mom’s behalf, and talked openly with reporters about her platform every step of the way. Mitt Romney finds himself in a similar position, more than 40 years later: traveling the country, and this time, convincing voters of his own credentials to become President of the United States. That outcome hinges on voters this November; Lenore’s influence on that journey, though, is indisputable.
Elizabeth Dias is a reporter in TIME’s Washington bureau. Follow her on Twitter @elizabethjdias.