Mitt Romney spent three years managing the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, an investment that is paying off for him in the Republican presidential primary at the expense of former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman.
Romney has raised $1.9 million from Utah residents through Sept. 30, almost as much as the $2.1 million he raised from Massachusetts, where he was elected governor after the Olympic games, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based research group.
Huntsman, who hails from a prominent family in Utah and was twice elected governor, has raised $255,850 from his home state. His total is only slightly larger than the $237,705 President Barack Obama has collected from donors in Utah, a state he lost by 29 percentage points in the 2008 election.
“We’ve seen Mitt Romney up close and personal,” said U.S. Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah, a former Huntsman chief of staff and campaign manager who is backing Romney in the presidential race.
Referring to Romney’s Olympics work, Chaffetz said: “He helped to lead the charge. It’s something that the country and Utah could be proud of. It’s clearly why Utahans are so strongly behind Mitt Romney. We like the way he does business.”
Romney’s edge is the perception that he “has got a better shot at the nomination,” said David Alvord, a dentist in South Jordan, Utah, who ran a pro-Romney blog during his failed 2008 presidential bid.
Timing is also a factor in the disparate fundraising totals. Huntsman, who gave up the governorship in 2009 to accept Obama’s appointment as U.S. ambassador to China, didn’t give up his position until April 30 and didn’t announce his presidential bid until June 21. Most of the other candidates were well ahead of him in gearing up their campaigns; Texas Governor Rick Perry is the only contender who entered the race after him.
“When Governor Huntsman was in China serving as ambassador, Governor Romney was flying around the state shoring up support,” said Kelly Patterson, director of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “By the time Governor Huntsman got serious about his candidacy, many of the people in this area had already chosen sides.”
Tim Miller, a Huntsman campaign spokesman, said, “Governor Romney has been courting donors in Utah for his presidential run for six years. We are grateful for all of our support in the state and it will continue to grow as the campaign goes on.”
A campaign spokeswoman for Romney, Andrea Saul, said, “Governor Romney has tremendous support across the country based on his leadership as a conservative businessman and detailed plans to create jobs and revive this economy.”
Romney, 64, collected $5 million from residents of Utah for his first presidential race in 2008, second only to California. This time around, he has received more than three-fourths of the $2.5 million Utahans have given to all of the presidential candidates through Sept. 30. Huntsman is second, followed by Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Besides Chaffetz, other Utah public officials backing Romney include Attorney General Mark Shurtleff; U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch; the state’s other Republican congressman, Representative Rob Bishop; and Republican leaders of the state legislature.
“These endorsements represent the deep level of support that I have enjoyed over the years in Utah,” Romney, a Michigan native, said in a July 6 statement announcing the officials’ support. “I formed a strong bond with many Utah residents and officials during my time running the Olympics and continue to appreciate the support of so many in the state.”
Huntsman, 51, also has hometown endorsements, including the backing of Utah House Majority Whip Greg Hughes.
As in his 2008 race, Romney’s biggest fundraising state this year has been California, where he has brought in $3.9 million, followed by New York with $3.6 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
He has already raised more money from New York then he did for his 2008 campaign, helped by Wall Street support. Through Sept. 30, securities and investment industry employees and their families gave $3.6 million to Romney, more than double the $1.6 million they donated to Obama, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
After Utah, Huntsman’s best states also are California, $251,215, and New York, $240,850.
Overall, Romney raised $32.6 million through Sept. 30, more than any other Republican presidential candidate. Huntsman raised $2.2 million and lent his campaign another $2.2 million.
Beyond their personal links to Utah, both Romney and Huntsman are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the predominant faith the state.
“That’s part and parcel of the motivations for giving” by Utahans, Patterson said. “You want to give to somebody who shares your ideals and vision. If you share religion, that’s one more dimension for you to connect with the candidate.”
Some resistance to Mormonism remains among Republicans. A Perry supporter, the Rev. Robert Jeffress of Dallas, on Oct. 7 called Mormonism “a cult,” and said that Romney was “not a Christian” in remarks to reporters after introducing the Texas governor at meeting in Washington of social conservatives.
Perry distanced himself from Jeffress’s remarks, saying he didn’t agree with the “cult” characterization. Romney, in calling on Perry to denounce the comment, said, “I just don’t believe that that kind of divisiveness based on religion has a place in this country.” Huntsman called Jeffress a “moron,” and said “let’s stick to the big issues that really matter and leave religion off the table.”
Alvord, the Utah dentist who is a Mormon, said, “It is nice to have two guys out there affirming that we’re Christians. It’s good to have some candidates who are helping to clear up some misconceptions about the church.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org.