Romney Has Big Early Edge On Huntsman For Utah Hearts, Minds, Money

Mitt Romney shakes boy's hand outside the Hires Big H hamburger restaurant in Salt Lake City, June 24, 2011. i i

hide captionMitt Romney shakes boy's hand outside the Hires Big H hamburger restaurant in Salt Lake City, June 24, 2011.

George Frey/Getty Images
Mitt Romney shakes boy's hand outside the Hires Big H hamburger restaurant in Salt Lake City, June 24, 2011.

Mitt Romney shakes boy's hand outside the Hires Big H hamburger restaurant in Salt Lake City, June 24, 2011.

George Frey/Getty Images

Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney went "home" to Utah Friday for two fundraisers and a stop at his favorite hamburger joint.

Yes, Romney is a native of Michigan, has a summer home in New Hampshire and was governor of Massachusetts.

But Romney has deep Mormon and family roots in Utah and is credited with restoring respectability to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics after a scandal over the city's Olympic bid.

Republican presidential rival Jon Huntsman, Jr., who was a popular Utah governor, also has deep Mormon and family roots in the state. In fact, as the Associated Press points out, Huntsman and Romney share these family ties:

  • Huntsman's uncle dated Romney's sister.
  • Huntsman's grandfather was best friends with Romney's father.
  • Huntsman's mother and Romney's sister were college roommates.
  • Huntsman's great-great-great grandfather is Mormon pioneer Parley Pratt, who is also Romney's great-great grandfather.

Huntsman had his own fundraising trip scheduled for Friday in Utah but that was postponed to Tuesday instead.

Now, a battle for Mormon voters isn't likely to have much impact on a presidential primary campaign. California, Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Utah have large Mormon populations but it's hard to imagine a split among Mormons making a decisive difference in contests in those states, unless, of course, Romney and Huntsman are neck-and-neck and leading the pack in primary and caucus voting when those states select nominees.

But, Utah can help bolster campaign coffers. The state was the second-biggest source of campaign funds for Romney in the 2008 race for the nomination. Only Californians contributed more than the $5.5 million Romney raised in Utah. Even Romney's real home state of Massachusetts contributed less.

Utah also was a source of significant volunteer help for Romney.

So, Utah is capable of providing a fundraising base for a favorite son, especially one needing money and momentum quickly to stay in the campaign. But what are the prospects for Utah gold?

Well, if polling is an indicator, Romney may have a big edge. A new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll indicates registered Utah voters overwhelmingly favor Romney so far. Half of those polled said they'd choose Romney in Utah's 2012 primary. Only 22 percent selected Huntsman.

Romney has that four-year lead in pumping Utah wealth for contributions. And he blew out eventual nominee John McCain in the Utah GOP primary in 2008, raising five times as much money and winning close to 90 percent of the vote.

Huntsman, incidentally, supported McCain.

And Huntsman has a long way to go to match Romney's fundraising reach in the state, according to a Salt Lake Tribune analysis of campaign finance records.

Romney had 9,300 individual Utah contributors in 2008, writes Tribune reporter Lee Davidson. "That was 37 times as much — from 73 times as many donors — as Huntsman raised that same year from Utah individuals as he ran for governor," Davidson reports.

The son of a billionaire chemical company magnate has strong business, political and family links that can produce campaign cash. Huntsman did best among corporate donors who "could give without limit under Utah law," Davidson adds. "But corporations are banned by federal law from donating to federal races, and all federal donors in 2008 were limited to giving no more than $2,300 per race (increased to $2,500 now)."

By the way, that billionaire dad, Jon Huntsman, Sr., is listed in Federal Election Commission records for 2008 as contributing the federal limit of $2,300 to Mitt Romney's campaign. The former Utah governor's mother, Karen, kicked in another $2,300.

But state campaign finance records show no 2008 contributions from mom or dad for Jon Junior's 2008 race for governor.

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