Utahns give Romney $1.9 million; Huntsman just $256,000

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 2 2011 10:15 a.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. may be trailing in fundraising for his presidential race here, but he's still spending more than $1.8 million to call Utah home.

Federal Elections Commission data show Utahns contributed more than $1.9 million to Mitt Romney's 2012 bid for the White House, but gave Huntsman just over $256,000.

That's less than the nearly $262,000 that Democratic President Barack Obama collected in the GOP-dominated state. Utahns gave a total $2.55 million to all candidates in the race.

"I am surprised at how much money Mr. Romney has taken out of the state of Utah," pollster Dan Jones said. "It makes him look almost like a local."

Romney has consistently outpolled Huntsman in Utah and has the support of many of the state's key political leaders, including Huntsman's former chief of staff as governor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

And Romney, who led the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, won an unprecedented 90 percent of the vote in the state's 2008 GOP primary against the party's eventual nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Jones said the Huntsman family's wealth may be hurting his efforts to raise money here. "I believe there are those who think the Huntsmans have the money and he can find it other ways," he said.

Romney adviser Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Utahns committed to Romney in the last election and aren't straying.

"Utah gave its heart to Romney in 2007 and 2008 for president," Jowers said. Another disadvantage for Huntsman, he said, is that "donors like to give to winners. And at the moment, Huntsman does not appear to be a viable presidential candidate."

Through Sept. 30, Romney has raised $32.2 million nationally compared to Huntsman's $4.5 million. Huntsman's total includes personal loans to his campaign totaling nearly $2.3 million.

Huntsman has also been spending money on a new place to live in Utah. He had sold his family's Salt Lake City home to move into the Governor's Mansion after taking office in 2005.

When he stepped down in 2009 to become the U.S. ambassador to China, he continued to use the mansion as his address to vote in the 2010 election. But upon returning to the United States earlier this year, Huntsman moved into a $3.6 million house in Washington, D.C.

Now Huntsman has purchased a condominium in the new 30-story Promontory on South Temple building in City Creek, the downtown shopping, entertainment and residential development being built by The Church of Jesus Christ of Lattter-day Saints.

According to the Salt Lake County recorder's office, Huntsman made the purchase in early August and took out a $1.87 million mortgage on Oct 18.

The unit he bought, located on the southwest corner of the seventh floor, is not the same one he listed as his residence in filings with the FEC.

Those filings, for the series of personal loans he made to his to his campaign beginning in May, list a larger, 3-bedroom, 2-bath, 2,300-square foot unit that faces Temple Square. That unit is marked unsold on the development's website.

His unit is just over 1,500 square-feet, including a balcony off the living room and has two bedrooms and two baths. The Huntsmans have seven children, including two young adopted daughters still living at home.

Huntsman said he stayed at the condo during a visit to Salt Lake last week to attend the dedication of a major expansion of the Huntsman Cancer Institute, joking that it was on the same street as the Governor's Mansion.

"Utah is his home, that's where his family is. He always planned on having a residence there," Huntsman's campaign spokesman Tim Miller said. Utah will be where the former governor casts his ballot in 2012 as well as his primary residence for tax purposes, Miller said.

University of Utah political science professor Matthew Burbank said Huntsman may be "positioning himself for the future," possibly including another run for office in Utah.

"I think that's probably what he's doing, is saying, 'If I were to look at the Senate or something like that, I need to establish a residence in Utah,'" Burbank said. But he called a challenge to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, unlikely.

"I don't think he could pivot quite that quickly and I don't think he would want to," Burbank said. "But after being governor, there's not that much else you'd want to run for."

Jowers said he didn't see any political advantage to Huntsman's establishing his legal residence in Utah.

"I guess time will tell there," he said. "Huntsman will run this presidential race. It appears he will not be successful in it. Then he'll have to figure out the next act of his life and that will determine where he will live."

The nation's capitol, Jowers said, might make more sense. "For someone who has been involved in government, especially international-type federal government most of his life, D.C. would be an obvious place for him to look for a job."

Lisa Riley Roche Twitter: dnewspolitics

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