Like others here in the home of the XIXes Jeux Olympiques D'Hiver, I got a chance to see the real Mitt Romney in action when he ran the Salt Lake Olympics.

He balanced the budget; he made a profit; he forged alliances; he delivered great speeches; he secured the borders; he got a lot of people, including himself, to work for nothing (and thoroughly enjoy it); and he left to a standing ovation.

Based on that evidence, I thought he would make an excellent president of these United States.

Now that it has been determined that he won't be president — not in 2008, at any rate — the question for me is obvious:

Why didn't national primary voters see the same Mitt Romney I saw in 2002?

That guy would have trounced a mean-spirited, over-the-hill John McCain in a nanosecond. That guy would have had Mike Huckabee carrying his suitcases — and working a magnetometer when he was off duty.

Where was that guy?

I don't think he ever really appeared. Running for president didn't give Mitt the time to be himself.

He turned into a, gasp, politician. He started using talking points. He listened to advisers. He chased votes and dollars over hearts and souls. When he spoke he looked like a mannequin.

As the months wore on he only got stiffer. Remember when he misspoke and said Barack Obama's name when he meant to say Osama bin Laden? The Olympic Mitt would have turned such an inadvertent gaffe into a self-deprecating mea culpa — and probably yet another sponsorship. Mitt for President didn't so much as apologize.

And has there been a stiffer speech in all of politics than Romney's so-called religion speech last December? Instead of defending his right to be a Mormon and let it go at that, he attacked Americans who aren't religious — a subtle but obvious pander for the Christian voting bloc. He couldn't stop campaigning even when he wasn't campaigning.

He wound up making more enemies than friends. A year ago, I thought that if and/or when his candidacy collapsed because he is Mormon — and I thought that being Mormon was his most serious obstacle to becoming president — every other Republican candidate would slap him on the back, thank him for participating, and invite him and Ann over for a barbecue.

Instead, he became the most unpopular guy on the debate floor.

In the end, in his never-ending quest to get votes and be all things to all people, he allowed Rush and Sean, those fading virulent talk-show superstars, to paint him as an arch-conservative when anyone who watched him win the governorship of Massachusetts — not to mention who watched him get along famously with Salt Lake's liberal mayor Rocky Anderson in the Olympic years — knows he's no conservative. He's the absolute king of the moderates. He proved that during our Olympics, building bridges, bringing people together, working within the system, considering all positions, creating solutions.

He'd have made a great moderate president. A lot of people in Utah, and other places he's lived and led, know that from firsthand experience. Oh well. As the Olympians put it, maybe in four more years.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.