Is Mitt Romney's moment Utah's moment?
Measuring the impact of Romney's GOP nomination on Utah
Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
TAMPA, Fla. — Many Utahns are eagerly anticipating positive publicity from having Mitt Romney, a Mormon with significant ties to the state, at the top of the GOP ticket this election year.
But there's also concern that as Romney's nomination is formalized at this week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Utah and its predominant religion will be the target of new attacks.
Gov. Gary Herbert said while it's not clear what the state can expect, the chance for the nation to see Romney take the stage at the convention will help dispel any lingering doubts about Utah and the LDS faith.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes no endorsement of candidates and counts prominent Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., among its membership.
But Romney's faith will be front and center at this week's GOP convention as the candidate's personal story is rolled out, including his role in leading the successful 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic Games, clearly linking the Republican nominee to Utah.
"I think some of the apprehension of being amongst a lot of Mormons (in Utah) is being done away with," the governor said. "People will see his wonderful family, good values and that he's successful. They'll think, 'He's a Mormon. Utah has a lot of Mormons. Maybe they're like Mitt Romney,'" the governor, a strong Romney supporter, said.
Herbert said he's heard doubts expressed about the state over the years, including by participants in last year's National Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake City as well as from leaders of companies considering relocating to Utah.
What they've found — and what he says the world will see in Romney — is that Utah's Mormons are "just normal average people. Maybe extra friendly," Herbert said, making it difficult "to portray Utah as a state full of people you wouldn't want to associate with."
Scott Beck, president and CEO of Visit Salt Lake, said there's no question a Mormon presidential nominee helps sell the state to tourists and conventioneers.
"The Mormon culture is so tied to our destination," he said. "The more normal and mainstream members of the LDS Church are perceived, the better it is for us. It's not the most exciting thing about Mitt's nomination, but it is in terms of what we do."
Beck said Salt Lake has previously addressed concerns that Utah is a peculiar place where visitors face being proselytized, including during the Olympics, when the question being asked was, "What's it going to be like to come to 'Mormonville.'"
The issue was raised again two years ago during the city's bid to host the 2012 Republican National Convention, he said. GOP officials ended up choosing Tampa over the other finalist cities, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, at least in part because Florida is seen as an important swing state in a presidential election.
Utah's delegation to the GOP convention, which includes the governor and other political leaders as well as party activists and candidates, is expecting extra attention in Tampa.
"Utah is just really on the radar right now," state GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said after a day of party meetings in Tampa last week. "We're not just a flyover state. We're relevant."
At least two Utahns have speaking roles at the convention, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a key Romney surrogate on the campaign trail, and Mia Love, whose bid to become the first black GOP woman in Congress is being supported by national party leaders.
Wright said the Romney campaign is counting on the Utah delegates to help maintain a high level of enthusiasm for the nominee in the convention hall.
"We're able to come to the convention and support the nominee with real conviction and real passion," he said. "They're asking us to step up and play that role. I think it's exciting."
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