Romney and Huntsman are both popular in Utah. Romney won 90 percent of the states Republican primary in 2008. Voters elected Huntsman to a second term as governor in 2008 with 78 percent of the vote. Colleagues of both say the two have been competitive for years and that tensions between their camps rose when Huntsman endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain in the 2008 Republican presidential primary rather than Romney. McCain is backing Romney in this years primary.
Romneys ability to turn the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics into a profitable venture is cited by many here as their chief reason for supporting him. He was hired following allegations that city officials provided favors to International Olympic Committee delegates to win the games.
The Bain Capital founder culled unnecessary items from the budget and raised additional funds to finish building local venues, those who worked closely with him recalled. He also hired advisers and recruited about 24,000 volunteers, persuading the International Olympic Committee to house them for about 10 days.
Huge Economic Problems
"We thought Mitt was the best we could hire to solve some huge economic problems," said State Senator John Valentine, a Romney-backer who served as Senate president under Huntsman and as chairman of the Olympics oversight committee.
"Im again looking to hire someone to solve huge economic problems for our economy," said Valentine, who called Huntsman a "really good friend."
Cramer met Huntsman when he was 28 and both were working for President George H.W. Bush in the Commerce Department. Huntsman called Cramer in 2006 and asked him to start the World Trade Center. Since then, Utah doubled exports as New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado lost them, Cramer said.
"That was because of the leadership of Governor Huntsman," Cramer said. "There are almost 100,000 jobs in Utah directly related to exports. Thats pretty powerful in a state with less than 3 million people."
On the stump in New Hampshire, Huntsman points to his economic accomplishments in the post, including saying he implemented a 5 percent flat tax. His stewardship helped the state lead the nation in job creation in the mid 2000s, Huntsman says, adding that Massachusetts was 47th at the time.
Influential Utah residents say the fundraising and campaign networks that Romney built over the last four years give them greater confidence in his chances of winning the presidency than Huntsmans economic record.
"Ill tell you flat out politically Im more aligned with Jon Huntsman," said Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has served under four governors, including Huntsman. "Hes more moderate on a number of issues, including immigration," he said.
"But you have to support the person for president who will do the best job and who has the best background and leadership experience and thats why I chose Romney."
Huntsmans comments about his Mormon religious beliefs when he returned to the U.S. last year after serving as President Barack Obamas ambassador to China put off some Utah natives.
Remarks on Religion
"Its really hard for an outsider to understand this, but a lot of the backwash has to do with when he returned and people started interviewing him about his background and he said Im not religious, Im spiritual," said Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell, who endorsed Romney.
"I felt he was distancing himself from Utah and Utah values and the Latter Day Saints in general."
Longtime Huntsman friends, many of whom hail from the states oldest and wealthiest families, said they dont sense any hard feelings because of their choice to endorse Romney.
Utah Jazz Chief Executive Officer Greg Miller, whose family owns a number of business ventures, including the Miller Motorsports Park where Huntsman occasionally raced, said he tried to explain clearly to the Huntsmans why he backed Romney.
"Our familys relationship with the Romneys isnt as broad or deep as it is with the Huntsmans," said Miller in an interview in his 10th floor office, with a commanding view of ski slopes.
"Ive had multiple interactions with the Huntsman family since then and havent felt any signs there were hard feelings," said Miller, whose father helped Huntsman in his bid for governor. "I treated it more like a business decision."
With assistance from Jonathan D. Salant and Jeanne Cummings in Washington. Editors: Jeffrey Taylor, Jeanne Cummings