Romney and the Olympics: What the Salt Lake Games say about a Mitt Romney presidency (+video)

Published: Wednesday, July 25 2012 7:00 p.m. MDT

“If he ever got in the White House, that would absolutely mirror what he did in the Games,” Eynon said. “When Mitt says he would cut nonessential things … I would take him at his word.”  

The bigger picture

Randy Dryer, a lawyer who oversaw the development of Olympic venues for the state, said that over time, Romney agreed to invest more money in those facilities to ensure their continued use post-Games.

Spending money on permanent, rather than temporary, needs like lighting at the venues demonstrates Romney's ability to look long-term, Dryer said. "I think he's a bottom-line sort of guy. But it's bigger than the bottom line — how's history going to view him?"

Gillespie said Romney’s ability to focus on what’s important and give up what isn't, no matter how much pressure there may be not to, will win over voters.  

“I think people out there are clamoring for that right now,” she said, suggesting Romney would answer the question of what services the federal government should provide with the same kind of “bigger-picture” leadership.

“Mitt is really good at understanding that. He got all of us at SLOC to see what we were trying to do, why we were trying to do it, and to believe in it again,” Gillespie said. “A lot of what he did focused on all of us having that clarity, that strong sense that what we were doing mattered.”

Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who’s heading the planning for Romney’s transition to the White House, said the results of the Olympics speak for themselves.

“Discouragement was replaced by belief. The $400 million deficit was replaced by a $100 million surplus. The 2002 Winter Olympic Games are widely respected as among the best ever put on,” Leavitt said. 

Romney accomplished this, he said, by applying the principles learned at Harvard Business School and put in practice building a personal fortune estimated at $250 million: Start with tearing apart the books and bringing in experts from both the finance and Olympic world.

"I heard Mitt over and over again giving a speech talking about the need to separate 'want-to-haves' from 'need-to-haves.' He set clear priorities, made hard decisions and stuck with them."  

Today, Leavitt said, the “country is disheartened. We have a massive deficit that will only be solved by restoring confidence and making the hard choices between ‘want to have’ and ‘need to have.’"

But former Sen. Bob Bennett, who has long backed a Romney run for the presidency, was less certain his experience running the Olympics would translate to running the country.

“There’s absolutely no similarity at all,” Bennett, a Republican who lost his re-election bid in 2010, said. He recalled a story told about President Jimmy Carter’s decision to bring his liaison with the Georgia Legislature to serve in the same role with Congress.

While the Democratic administration acknowledged that was like moving from a farm league baseball team to playing for the Yankees, others said it was more like showing up on an NBA basketball court swinging a baseball bat and wearing cleats.

“It’s an entirely different game with entirely different rules,” Bennett said. What will count, he said, is advice from people who know Washington, including Leavitt, who served in President George W. Bush’s Cabinet.

Bennett said when he took Romney around the Capitol to meet key members of Congress soon after he was hired, “his competence was just obvious. He was completely on top of the problem. Any questions they might have, he had answers for.”

Romney, though, “is not a natural politician,” Bennett said. “He’s looked a little bit awkward at times. But he’s also demonstrated a capacity to learn,” bringing together a stronger campaign team this election.

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