Is Mitt Romney's loss Utah's loss? Mike Leavitt, other Utahns were poised to make an impact

Published: Tuesday, Nov. 6 2012 10:00 p.m. MST

Sophia Ty, left, and Toree Green celebrate and early lead for President Barack Obama as Utah democrats gather at the Salt Lake Sheraton on election night Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt said he was optimistic Mitt Romney would win Tuesday's presidential election, but acknowledged that might have been because he was in charge of planning for a Romney victory.

Even Romney's staunchest supporters began to lose hope before it became clear President Barack Obama had been re-elected to a second term. At the Utah GOP election night bash at Salt Lake City's downtown Hilton, the crowd found few opportunities to cheer on their unofficial "favorite son" candidate.

For Utah, a Romney loss means no exodus of the state's top talent to Washington, D.C., to join a Republican administration, and no additional influence on national policy from the Republican-dominated state.

Leavitt, who arrived in Boston midday Tuesday from Romney's Washington, D.C., "Readiness Project" office, said his role as head of the transition team may have made him more upbeat then others as he awaited the voters' verdict.

"I've had the privilege of getting up every morning for the last six months with the assumption that he would win," Leavitt told the Deseret News. "And it was my job to be ready."

Leavitt, widely viewed as Romney's choice for chief of staff, said when he was tapped to lead the transition team earlier this year, he signed an eight-month lease on a place to live in Washington, D.C., that's up just after Inauguration Day.

He declined to speculate on his political future, insisting his plan has always been to return to Utah and his health care consulting business once his work on the transition was completed, whether that turned out to be on Election Day or Jan. 21.

Now Leavitt and the Romney team will recalibrate and point to a different future.

"It's been a very rewarding thing," Leavitt said of his role in making sure Romney, a fellow Mormon whom he considers a friend, would have been prepared to take over the White House from President Barack Obama. 

A tentative calendar prepared for Romney through Inauguration Day was booked solid with meetings intended to build a new administration that had been expected to include not just Leavitt but other Utahns in prominent roles.

Romney would have hit "the ground running," said Fraser Bullock, head of a Utah-based private equity firm and the chief operating officer under Romney at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. 

Bullock, in Boston with Romney to watch the returns, had been expected to serve Romney on budget issues. "It's an opportunity lost," Bullock said. "I feel for Mitt. I feel just as badly for our country because we really needed him."

Before flying home to Utah Wednesday, Bullock said he planned to have brunch with Romney. "He gave everything possible," Bullock said. "I just want to thank him for what he did and how hard he tried." 

Other Utah names that had been on Romney’s shortlist for filing 100 top-level slots were Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a top surrogate on the campaign trail for the past year; and Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime supporter. 

“There’s a political benefit to having worked shoulder-to-shoulder to help somebody get elected,” said Chaffetz, who had been mentioned as a possible communications director in a Romney White House due to his frequent dealings with the national media.

Chaffetz, who won re-election Tuesday to a third term, said he had hoped to play a pivotal role in Congress for the Romney administration, possibly as chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Now he returns to a divided Congress and what he fears will be continued gridlock.

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