1 of 2
Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News
Mitt Romney and his wife Ann share a laugh with Senator Bob Bennett as thousands attend funeral services Saturday for LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley inside the Conference Center.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney stepped off the campaign trail today to attend the funeral of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Romney, who did not speak with reporters after the service, left Utah quickly for Minnesota, where he was to hold a campaign rally and a fund-raiser Saturday evening.

"He's keeping a low profile in the state while he's here. This is a personal visit," Romney's traveling press secretary, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters gathered at the church's Conference Center to cover the funeral. "The governor is not doing any politicking in the state of Utah. He's here to pay his respects to Gordon Hinckley."

Fehrnstrom said Romney, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, considers President Hinckley "one of great faith leaders of the church" and admired his sense of humor and "warm personal touch" as well as his efforts to expand the church through the construction of new temples around the world.

Romney was seated with other dignitaries at the funeral, including Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.; Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt; and members of Utah's congressional delegation, as well as other Mormon representatives and senators, including Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore.

Leavitt, a former Utah governor, represented the Bush Administration at the funeral.

Huntsman, who sat in the second row near Romney, is not supporting Romney's bid for the White House, choosing instead to back another Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain. Most Utahns, however, want to see Romney become the first Mormon to win the presidency. Huntsman's father, Jon Huntsman Sr., is a national finance co-chairman for Romney.

Romney was accompanied to the services by his wife, Ann; his sons, Josh and Matt; and Josh's wife, Jen; and his longtime personal aide and now national finance director, Spencer Zwick. Zwick's father, Craig, is a member of the LDS Church First Quorum of the Seventy.

Romney arrived in Utah Friday evening after a day of campaigning in California and Colorado, two of the more than 20 states that will be voting on so-called "Super-Duper" Tuesday. Other states where presidential primaries and caucuses will be held that day include Utah, Minnesota and six states where Romney did live interviews via satellite from KSL-TV's studios before Saturday's funeral — Alabama, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Montana and North Dakota.

And although his campaign staff and the traveling press stayed Friday night at the Grand America Hotel, Romney slept at the Harvard-Yale home of his son, Josh.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama was to have held a rally in Salt Lake City on Saturday, but cancelled his visit to Utah in deference to the funeral. Obama went to Idaho instead and offered his thoughts and prayers in memory of the LDS leader during an appearance at Boise's Taco Bell Arena.


E-mail: [email protected]