Mitt Romney campaigning Friday at Salt Lake's Hires Big H

Published: Thursday, June 23 2011 11:17 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney is making a campaign stop at Hires Big H Drive-In in downtown Salt Lake City today following a fundraising lunch in Orem.

But co-owner John Hale expects he'll have saved room for a burger.

"Mitt eats here all the time. He always comes here when he's in town," Hale said shortly after the Thursday lunch rush at the downtown Hires, 425 S. 700 East.

This time, though, his campaign staff is publicizing the time of his visit, 3:15 p.m., and billing it as a meeting with small-business owners and voters.

Hale said he's probably going to be working while his brother, Mark, sits down with Romney at the family-owned restaurant started by their late father, Don, more than 50 years ago.

"If it gets crowded, I'll have to be serving," Hale said. "We don't know if people will just be coming here to see him and not eat."

Mark Hale said his father, who served on the Salt Lake City Council, would have been "very pleased to have Mitt come and make Hires part of his presidential campaign. My father was very much a Republican."

Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, is already popular among Utah voters, having won 90 percent of the 2008 GOP primary vote over the party's eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.

And a new Deseret News/KSL-TV poll shows Romney with a commanding lead over the state's other "favorite son" presidential candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., in Utah's 2012 Republican primary, 50 percent to 22 percent among registered voters surveyed. 

"Mitt takes nothing for granted and particularly Utah, which has been such an incredible source of support both financially and in volunteer hours," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime Romney adviser.

He's making the stop at Hires because he "loves to just meet with people on their own home turf, and particularly small-business owners," Jowers said. "And he loves the Hires burgers. Ever since the Olympics, Hires has been a favorite place."

In addition to Friday's fundraiser at a private home in Orem, Romney will also hold an evening event at the Grand America hotel in Salt Lake City. Both fundraisers cost a minimum of $1,000 to attend.

Huntsman had been scheduled to hold a fundraiser for his presidential campaign at the members-only Alta Club on Friday, but has since rescheduled the event for next Tuesday. He is also expected to hold a public event, possibly a rally at the Capitol.

Lisa Riley Roche, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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