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Mitt Romney

Sen. Bob Bennett says Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is "certainly my choice" for the GOP presidential nomination in 2008.

Romney is the strongest candidate the Republicans could field, added Bennett, R-Utah. He discussed politics and other topics during a meeting with the Deseret Morning News editorial board on Wednesday.

Last December, Romney said he would not run for a second term as Massachusetts governor, triggering speculation that he is interested in the presidency. Speaking to reporters, he did not rule out that option.

Romney is famous in Utah as the man called upon to rescue the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games after the Games were hit by scandal. The event was hugely successful, and in the fall of 2002 Romney was elected governor of his heavily Democratic home state. He is also a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, as are most Utahns.

A potential GOP presidential candidate with a high profile is former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, but Bennett doesn't think he will run.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is being promoted as the Republican who could beat Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., Bennett said. He said that one poll showed 40 percent of Americans would like to see McCain president, but then showed that if he were running against Clinton, the vote would be 52 to 46 percent in favor of the Arizonan.

"He went up 12 points" when put up against the former first lady, said Bennett.

Some GOP politicians are buying into the notion that McCain could beat Clinton, he added. And McCain has high name recognition.

"If we can get Mitt known well enough so that he emerges as an alternative to McCain among Republicans," he might win the nomination, Bennett said.

If Romney and McCain were to campaign against each other head-to-head in a small state like Utah, where people could weigh their presentations, Romney would win, he said. But in a national campaign, advertising and surrogates play a large role.

And presently, in the national arena, McCain has an advantage in name recognition, he said.

Bennett listed a number of senators, like McCain, who might seek the nomination. Naming governors, he added, "Romney is clearly the class of that group."

Historically, the country has turned to governors more than senators in presidential elections, he said. And in terms of governors who might become president, "Romney's the guy."

To win the nomination, Bennett added, Romney has to "beat out George Allen (Republican senator from Virginia) as an alternative to McCain."

On the other side of the spectrum, Clinton may have a lock on the Democratic nomination, he believes.

"I don't see any Democrat who could deny her the nomination. . . . She's moving to the center as rapidly as she can."

As an example of that movement, he noted that Clinton joined as a co-sponsor to an anti-flag-burning bill that Bennett sponsored. He said he is in favor of the bill because he opposes burning the nation's symbol but does not support a constitutional amendment to ban such actions. The threat involved in flag-burning does not warrant changing the Constitution, he said.

When Clinton joined as a co-sponsor, the New York press went crazy, as they were surprised to see her joining the Utahn, he said. Another example of her move away from the left is that "she's never disavowed her vote for the war" in Iraq, while some other Democrats have.

On another topic, Bennett said phone calls to his office seemed to be dying down Wednesday in the controversy over an Arab company acquiring rights to manage six major ports in this country.

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In his opinion, the same people will be unloading ships as are doing it now. American ports are protected by the Coast Guard and Homeland Security, not the companies that handle the mechanics, he said.

He expects that the CEO of Dubai Ports World, the Arab company, would be extra-diligent to protect his company's reputation.

Asked if he's willing to say, "go full speed ahead" on the company's taking over, Bennett replied, "Well, I haven't gone that far yet." But he believes that once the controversy dies down, people may come to the conclusion that it's not a bad deal.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com