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Boston GOP beseeching Mitt

But hero of S.L. Games is coy about his future

Published: Friday, Feb. 22 2002 12:00 a.m. MST

The GOP hounds are baying for Mitt Romney.

And even though the barking is coming from 2,300 miles away in Boston, Romney hears them.

Concerned Republicans are calling, asking the president of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee to sprint from the Winter Olympics back to his longtime home to run for governor this year.

The pleas are found publicly in political columns, in letters to the editor and radio talk shows. Privately, Romney is also getting telephone calls, he says.

The prospects of GOP Gov. Jane Swift, who as lieutenant governor inherited the job when former Gov. Paul Cellucci resigned to be part of the Bush administration, winning a new term are not good.

While officially backed by the Massachusetts Republican Party, in the polls she trails every Democratic candidate running against her in the basically Democratic state. And Swift recently got into a messy political fight over toll-road fees that alienated her conservative base.

Romney, also matched in some of the polls, beats Swift in a GOP primary hands down and does better against the Democratic wannabees.

And as the 2002 Winter Games are played up as a success — and Romney portrayed as their savior — the clamor is only rising in Bean Town.

"Please, Mitt Romney, get on the next plane out of town, come back to Massachusetts and run for governor," the Boston Globe columnist Brian McGrory writes.

Romney, however, stays coy.

Just last week Romney told CNN when asked about a challenge to Swift: "I'm pretty careful not to absolutely rule out anything, but I do think it would take an unusual circumstance for me to run against an incumbent from my own party. I'm very careful to make sure that even when doors seem pretty closed (to running), there's always a little opening."

He told the Deseret News he has turned down requests to allow political polling on his behalf and has yet to set up an exploratory committee to look at the race. But Romney knows he doesn't have much time if he's going to choose Massachusetts over Utah.

"What's challenging is, Massachusetts has a shorter fuse than the other option, so I've got to look at that sooner rather than later," he said. "I will evaluate the political landscape based on whether I can win and whether I can really make a contribution."

Utah GOP chairman Joe Cannon knows a little about Utah and national politics. "Right now, Mitt is golden, just golden," said Cannon, a U.S. Senate candidate in 1992 and older brother of Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.

Romney "has done a masterful job of playing down expectations in Olympic success and delivering way over" those expectations, chairman Cannon says. Romney has become a darling of the media, not just here and in Massachusetts — where people still remember his spirited challenge to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1994 — but across the United States.

But all is not perfect for a Romney for Governor campaign this spring. There's the question of looking like a political opportunist — a black mark on Romney's squeaky clean reputation.

"Mitt Romney has said in the past that he supports Jane Swift for governor. She takes him at his word," Swift spokesman Jim Borghesani told the Boston Herald two weeks ago.

There are also the practical political problems:

  • Money. While a wealthy man (Romney is a multimillionaire who has already announced he won't return to Bain Capital, the venture firm he helped found), Romney wouldn't like spending his own cash on a governor's race. He's said he wouldn't take a salary unless SLOC makes money, and that is yet to be seen. Romney has basically worked without pay for several years.

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