Mitt Romney has a real path to the presidency, Sen. Bob Bennett said.
But it will not be an easy path, and Romney could still be waylaid by several issues or personalities, Bennett, R-Utah, told the Deseret Morning News editorial board Tuesday.
"More and more of the thoughtful observers have come to the same conclusion that I have (Romney) will likely be the Republican nominee," Bennett said.
Even though a quarter of Americans say they will not vote for a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be president, Bennett said he doesn't believe that ultimately "the Mormon question will be definitive" to what happens to Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts who ran Utah's 2002 Olympic Games.
On other issues, Bennett said he will support Utah getting a fourth U.S. House seat, but "I doubt it will pass" in the Senate.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a close ally of Bennett, "just hates" the Washington, D.C., congressional voting rights bill. McConnell opposes giving D.C. a vote in the House "because Mitch believes it is clearly unconstitutional."
And, said Bennett, McConnell should be able to gather the 41 votes to block the D.C. voting rights bill from ever getting a vote in the Senate. The bill would give Utah an extra seat and give D.C. a voting seat.
On immigration reform, Bennett repeated that he has not fully made up his mind yet and wants to see all the amendments to a comprehensive bill put forward by a wide coalition of U.S. senators.
But Bennett said he believes the current bill is perhaps the last chance to get immigration reform for years to come. "If the core bill holds, without amendments that could kill (the compromise), it has a chance," he said.
Bennett voted to kill an amendment which failed 48-49 that would have removed the partial amnesty part of the bill. The amendment would have killed the compromise.
If the bill passes the Senate, Bennett said rumors from the House indicate Democrats there could call the bill up for a floor vote without committee hearings or much debate and President Bush could find himself with a comprehensive immigration bill on his desk this year.
Bennett, who said he has advised on several U.S. presidential campaigns, said Romney, a faithful member of the LDS Church, has to stay away from discussing any theology or try to convince anyone that they should become Mormons.
"Evangelicals will endorse him because he's the only (GOP) candidate who shares their values and the only one they can depend upon to support their values from the presidency," Bennett said.
The one alternative is former U.S. senator, and now actor, Fred Thompson, who could throw a wrench into Romney's campaign should he declare for the presidency himself, said Bennett.
"I don't see any scenario whereby Fred becomes the nominee" of the Republican Party. But he could be a spoiler to Romney's effort. "Fred could trip up Mitt and allow (Rudy) Giuliani to come through" and win the nomination.
The core question Republicans want answered for any of the GOP presidential candidates, Bennett said, is: Can they beat Sen. Hillary Clinton?
"And Romney is moving. He can beat her," Bennett said.
Romney has the money, the issues, and the personality and charisma to win, Bennett said.
But Americans could also find themselves choosing only from New Yorkers former New York City Mayor Giuliani as the GOP nominee; Clinton, D-N.Y., as the Democratic nominee; and current NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg running as a strong independent.
Bennett said Washington, D.C., rumor has it that Bloomberg is worth more than $1 billion, and "he could spend $500 million on an independent presidential campaign and not miss it."
As long as Giuliani has the beat-Hillary-card via the polls, "It trumps everything else, (Giuliani's) position on abortion, all his marriages, everything else."
Republicans are looking more at Romney because he has lived, through his private life and his family, "the family values they like." The other Republican candidates don't have that, said Bennett.
"I have heard maybe fourth-hand that Hillary is most concerned about Mitt," said Bennett. In large part, that's because of his wholesome reputation. "Many Americans see that if they vote for Hillary, they get Bill. And they don't want their soap-opera marriage playing out before them (on TV) in their living rooms for another four years."Comment on this story
While the Iraq war is much hated in America, and Bush's approval ratings are just terrible, Bennett said he doesn't see the war greatly harming the GOP nominee, assuming the nominee is not Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports the current military approach in Iraq.
"Mitt and Giuliani can just say: 'It is not my war.'"
What D.C. politicians heard from the "screaming and yelling from the 2006 election is that they want a new face they are tired of the Establishment," he said. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., is a new face, but he won't win the Democratic nomination, believes Bennett.Obama "is not connected to the automatic delegates" that have such a large say in the national Democratic convention.