SALT LAKE CITY — Shutters clicked and video rolled as Mitt Romney and Sen. Orrin Hatch strolled down the tarmac Friday outside the Executive Terminal at the Salt Lake City International Airport.
Hatch is counting on those pictures being worth thousands of votes in the Republican primary election June 26.
"The message was delivered as to who Gov. Romney wants to see elected to the Senate from the state of Utah," said Hatch campaign manager Dave Hansen.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee came to Utah for a quick, highly orchestrated appearance with Hatch before attending two fundraising events. The two chatted as they walked to an awaiting Suburban and Romney could be heard laughing. Neither took questions from the media gathered outside the terminal before driving off together.
"It's a photo op. It's a media event. These are two established politicians endorsing each other hoping that will translate into votes," said University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless.
More so for Hatch than Romney, who has hitched his re-election campaign to the former Salt Lake Olympics leader. He has said Romney can't do what he wants to do as president without him.
Hatch faces former Republican state Sen. Dan Liljenquist in a primary runoff, his first since being elected to office in 1976.
The Liljenquist camp used Romney's visit to again blast Hatch over his unwillingness to do a televised debate, saying he has continued to insist that he is too busy, yet found time to return to Utah for a photo opportunity.
"After nearly four decades in the Senate, voting repeatedly to raise the debt ceiling, voting repeatedly to raise his own salary, and voting to expand the entitlement programs crushing our nation's economy, it's no wonder he can't face the voters," said Holly Richardson, Liljenquist campaign spokeswoman.
Liljenquist held a mock debate Thursday without Hatch. He showed video clips of the senator pulled from the Internet and then countered the senator's comments.
The Hatch campaign wrote it off as a gimmick.
"We don't need a fake debate. We have Mitt," Hansen said.
Romney endorsed Hatch last September. In May, Hatch announced that he'll serve as a "special adviser" and campaign surrogate for the former Massachusetts governor. He has yet to appear at any campaign events on Romney's behalf.
Chambless said endorsements usually help a candidate, but only to a small degree. In this case, both Hatch and Romney could get something out of it.
"In part it's the Utah connection. In part it's the LDS connection. In part it's to show that a President Romney would have the strong support, presumably, of a Sen. Hatch who might just be the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee in 2013," he said.
But Chambless cautioned against making assumptions.
Hatch must defeat Liljenquist in June, then beat Democrat Scott Howell in November, Republicans must take control of the Senate, Hatch's colleagues must elect him finance committee chairman and Romney has to win the presidency before he and Hatch could team up.
"I've learned it's never safe to assume," Chambless said.
Sandy resident Sylvia Hunter, though, has no doubt Romney will oust President Barack Obama. The 61-year-old schoolteacher was among about 15 spectators who turned out to catch a glimpse of Romney at the air terminal. She jumped up and down and waved as the SUV he was riding in passed. She said Romney waved back.
"I'm just all for him," said Hunter, adding she has contributed to the Romney campaign but can't afford the $2,500-per-person reception at the Grand America hotel on a teacher's salary. She said she also favors Hatch.
"I think he and Gov. Romney can come up with some plans to cut the deficit," she said.
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