Mitt Romney is again making Utah headlines, co-hosting yet another Republican fundraiser and appearing on the short list of vice presidential prospects for John McCain. All this activity is raising some questions:

Is Romney wearing out his welcome here in Utah with his never-ending fundraising activities?

Pignanelli: "How much must we bleed for the guy?" a former Romney activist recently inquired. Utahns respect and admire Romney for his success in business and the Winter Olympics. Of course, this affection is fostered by his mutual faith. As a candidate, Romney was smart to tap the Mormon network for money and volunteers. Long after his withdrawal from the presidential contest, Romney continues to squeeze Utahns for McCain and the national party. Questions arise whether he has similar ability to press in Massachusetts and Michigan.

But there is a bigger issue. All this local money may boost Romney's chances for the vice presidency or Cabinet position, but will it help Utah in the long run? Several Republican analysts believe scarce resources are better spent in bolstering leadership PACs of senators Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch. Because the GOP numbers in the U.S. Senate are likely to drop after the next election, financial assistance to enhance the congressional delegation will directly benefit Utah. As one insider put it, "Our guys in Congress can do more for Utah in one year than a Cabinet member can do in eight." Thousands of Utahns donated countless hours to ensure the 2002 Olympics succeeded — providing the launch pad for Romney. Others volunteered time and money to the Romney presidential campaign. Perhaps our state has done enough for a talented — but nonresident — politician.

Webb: Yes, Romney donor fatigue is setting in. He has hauled unprecedented amounts of money out of Utah, especially considering he's not a Utahn. There clearly are limits, especially among those who can only afford to give small to medium amounts. The super-wealthy can max out their contributions without a second thought, but that's not the case for most people.

But even with donor fatigue, the events last Wednesday featuring President Bush and Romney, plus local political stars like Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, and members of the congressional delegation, were bound to attract big money. Despite fewer donors than expected in the midrange categories, probably more than $2 million was raised in one day. There's more political money in Utah than is commonly acknowledged. Despite his terrible job-approval numbers, President Bush has the capacity to raise big money wherever he goes from wealthy Republican faithful.

Romney is clearly going to keep his fundraising machine operating. I recently received an e-mail solicitation to contribute to a new PAC he has created so he can support other Republican candidates, travel the country and keep his political stock high.

Is Romney still a serious contender for the vice president slot?

Pignanelli: McCain is no dummy. By keeping Romney in the mix, the governor can strong-arm business colleagues, corporate wannabes and fellow Mormons for contributions. But as noted before in this column, Romney brings nothing to the McCain ticket — geographically or demographically. Massachusetts will go for Obama. Millions of white American males will vote for McCain regardless of Romney. It is fun to think about (and a nightmare for Utah Democrats), but the rumors will end once the Romney money machine dries up.

Webb: Yes, he is. Vice president running mates are usually afterthoughts in presidential campaigns. But given McCain's age and health issues, his selection is much more important than usual. And whoever is chosen will become the GOP heir apparent in the next presidential contest, even if McCain doesn't win this year. So for the ambitious Romney, it makes sense to go all out for the v.p. slot. Insiders say the FLDS polygamy/child abuse mess in Texas has hurt Romney's chances, but he's still a serious prospect. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. is also expending considerable effort campaigning for McCain.

Could Romney and Huntsman co-exist in a McCain administration?

Pignanelli: The cruder question is: Will McCain appoint two Mormons to his Cabinet. That religious preference remains an issue for national public service is outrageous. (You can blame the bigotry on GOP evangelical wackos, Gov. Mike Huckabee, etc.). Huntsman was with McCain from the beginning, even through the dark days of late last year. Romney has a lot of catching up just to pull even. Indeed, Huntsman and Romney may be vying for the same Cabinet office: secretary of commerce. A strong Romney performance could create an obstacle to Huntsman. Yet, I rely on the old baseball rule — "tie goes to the runner" — in this case, Huntsman.

Webb: Several Mormons have served in presidential Cabinets, but two at once would be one too many. If McCain selected

Romney as v.p., Huntsman's chances for a Cabinet slot would be diminished. One of them probably cancels out the other.


Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and a Deseret News managing editor. E-mail: [email protected]. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as House minority leader. E-mail: [email protected]