Utah key to Mitt Romney strategy in battleground states

Published: Saturday, Sept. 15 2012 5:11 p.m. MDT

From left, Marion Wright, Claudia Higginson and Daniela Jones call potential voters at the Salt Lake Romney Victory Office in Midvale on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

MIDVALE — Volunteers at a new Mitt Romney call center spent Saturday talking to voters in Colorado, part of the campaign's strategy to mobilize the GOP presidential candidate's strength in Utah to secure victories in neighboring battleground states.

"We're the cavalry force. We're the reinforcements for these battleground states that really need the help," said Cory Drumright, a former Nevada GOP official who is now state director for Romney's victory operation in Utah.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement and support" for the former Salt Lake Olympic leader in Utah, Drumright said. "And because Utah is going to vote for Gov. Romney, the people here want to make sure they can really help out the effort nationwide."

Right now, that means making calls to identify likely Romney supporters in the so-called swing states that could go either Republican or for Democratic President Barack Obama in November, especially Colorado and Nevada.

The Midvale call center, tucked into a strip mall anchored by a Hooters restaurant and a bridal shop, officially opened last weekend, along with centers in Logan and St. George. There has been a call center in Orem since last year.

But later this month, the campaign is expected to begin regularly busing volunteers into Las Vegas, Grand Junction and other communities in Nevada and Colorado so they can meet face-to-face with voters.

Utah GOP Chairman Thomas Wright said the deployments are expected to continue every weekend through October. In the week leading up to the Nov. 6 election, he said Utah will be sending busloads of volunteers to Colorado and Nevada every day.

"Door-to-door persuasion can be very powerful," Wright said.

The volunteers, whose accommodations and meals will be provided by the campaign, will knock on the doors of voters identified through the call centers as likely Romney supporters, he said.

Wright said the state party is working with the campaign to show Utahns that there is a role for them to play in national elections.

"For me, my primary motivation is to show the Republicans in Utah we don't have to be irrelevant in a presidential election just because we're a Republican state," he said.

Presidential candidates from both major parties typically don't campaign in Utah because the state hasn't voted to send a Democrat to the White House since 1964.

Romney, however, has made a number of visits to the state to raise money. Tuesday, he is scheduled to spend two hours in Utah to attend a $1,000-a-plate luncheon that is expected raise $1 million, as well as to mingle at a VIP reception that costs $25,000 to attend.

The volunteers at the Midvale call center were competing with their counterparts in the other Utah centers for a pair of tickets to Romney's luncheon. The centers were expected to stay busy even during Saturday's football game between the University of Utah and BYU.

"Mitt Romney is coming to town. People get excited," said Sensi Carli, the field director for the Midvale center, noting the turnout was unusually good. A recent U. grad, Carli said she'd watch the game on a TV set up among the phone banks.

Romney's popularity in Utah makes the state unique, she said. Despite spending most of his adult life in Massachusetts, where he served as governor, Romney is still seen as a "favorite son" by Utah.

"It is unlike anything. Obama does not have a Utah. He does not have a state that is so excited and so enthusiastic and just wants him in office 100 percent. That is an edge Romney has," Carli said.

Too many Utah voters, she said, "are just missing what they can do to help."

Daniela Jones, chairwoman of the Salt Lake County Young Republicans, agreed.

"I think it's kind of taken for granted because we are in a predominantly Republican state that you don't need to do anything," Jones said between calls.

She said even though Utah is expected to go big for Romney in November, voters here need to get involved.

"You really can make a difference outside Utah," Jones said. "It is important to reach out to the other states and let them know that we care and the election is important to us."

BYU alumni Joel Conte said he knows how important the swing-state vote is because of his family ties to Ohio and Florida.

"I want to be a part of the change," Conte said, sounding a little discouraged at the number of Colorado voters who told him Saturday they supported Obama.

An average of the latest polls in Colorado show Obama leading Romney by three points, according to realclearpolitics.com.

"Right now, a lot of people are just like, 'Barack, Barack, Barack' because they don't know a lot about Mitt," said Jackie Flynn, who rocked her 4-month-old son, Liam, as she chatted with Coloradans.

Flynn said she was volunteering to reach voters who aren't as familiar with Romney as Utahns are, thanks to his efforts to turn around the then-troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

"Just to let people know that there is another option, that is doesn't have to be Barack Obama," Flynn said. "They have Romney, who will hopefully fix our economy."

Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call said because voters in his state could make the difference between another term for Obama or a Romney presidency, the help coming from Utahns is critical.

"That connection from a volunteer is worth 100 television commercials in my book," Call said, predicting the presidential race in Colorado "is going to be won or lost on our ability to communicate person-to-person."

He said campaign volunteers in other states, including Wyoming, Oklahoma and Nebraska, are also reaching out to Colorado voters.

"We're all in this fight together," he said. "We are a battleground state. We appreciate all the help we can get."

A member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Call said there's a special connection between Utahns and Mormons in Colorado.

"It's our roots in the West and the kinship we feel," he said, noting that many members of the LDS Church have offered to open their homes to Utah volunteers.

"Utahns will make a big difference," said Sarah Nelson, the campaign's western regional political director. "It's in a perfect spot to help Gov. Romney bring this election home in two key battleground states."

E-mail: lisa@desnews.com Twitter: dnewspolitics

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