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Huntsman backer called traitor as Romney rivalry splits Utah

Jennifer Oldham

Bloomberg

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 10 2012 9:45 a.m. MST

Republican presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman rallies supporters as he campaigns in Eagle Square on January 09, 2012 in Concord, New Hampshire. Polls show Huntsman gaining ground on front runner Mitt Romney.

Matthew Cavanaugh, Getty Images

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Five floors apart in a Salt Lake City office complex, Lew Cramer and Lane Beattie have much in common: they are best friends and serve on each others business boards. What these two Republicans disagree about is who is the most qualified presidential candidate. Cramer supports Jon Huntsman Jr., Utahs former governor, while Beattie prefers Mitt Romney, who led fundraising for the states 2002 Olympics.

"In this state there are a lot of divided loyalties, theres no question about it," said Cramer, the World Trade Center Utah chief executive officer, who endorsed Romney in 2008 and switched to Huntsman this year. "Ive had friends kid me a lot about being a traitor" even though hes backing a native of the state.

Their split points to a broader divide among Utah Republicans over the two candidates who also have shared backgrounds: both are Mormons, businessmen and former governors. In interviews, Utah Republicans regularly refer to them interchangeably as "favorite sons."

Romney Advantage

Yet its Romney, who grew up in Michigan and was governor of Massachusetts, who has the edge over Huntsman, who spent much of his life in Utah. Romney is leading in polls, has more local endorsements, and raised more money in the state than Huntsman. Romney reported $1.9 million in contributions from Utah residents through Sept. 30, the most recent figures available — about seven times as much as Huntsman, who took in $255,850, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington- based research group.

"It puts a lot of us in a precarious position," said U.S. House Representative Jason Chaffetz, who ran Huntsmans first campaign for governor in 2004 and served as his chief of staff.

"Its not that Im anti-Huntsman, but I am very pro-Mitt Romney," added Chaffetz, who has campaigned with Romney in New Hampshire. "I just think he would make a better president. I think he has the best opportunity to beat Barack Obama."

About 60 Utah legislators endorsed Romney, compared with two for Huntsman, Chaffetz said. A Salt Lake Tribune poll in August found that 71 percent of Utah residents who identified themselves as Republicans supported Romney, compared with 13 percent for Huntsman.

New Hampshire Primary

The two candidates will be among those facing off in tomorrows New Hampshire primary. Huntsman, who is behind in polls and fundraising, has staked his candidacy on a top finish there. The Boston Globe, the largest newspaper in Romneys home state, endorsed Huntsman last week. The latest Boston-based Suffolk University tracking poll had Romney with 33 percent support, compared to Huntsmans third-place 13 percent. Running second for U.S. Representative Ron Paul of Texas, with 20 percent.

In Utah, taking sides isnt easy. Romney and Huntsman are battling for resources in a close-knit, family-centric business community, testing many longstanding relationships. Cramer wept during an interview as he described serving steak and pie for Christmas dinner at a Salt Lake homeless shelter with longtime friend Huntsman.

Others, including business and political leaders with personal ties to Huntsman and his family, say they believe its Romneys turn because hes older — and put in his time serving the state during the Olympics. Romney is 64, Huntsman, 51.

"By law I had to approve Mitts budget," said Beattie, president and chief executive of the Salt Lake Chamber and the states chief Olympics officer, who oversaw Romneys work for several years. "He was very direct. He said Heres the budget, heres what were going to raise. He was a master."

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