Mitt Romney

Utahns were surprised when John McCain chose Alaska's first female governor as his running mate on Friday — especially since many still believed Mitt Romney would be asked to join the ticket.

But Romney, the leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and a member of the LDS Church like the majority of Utahns, may have known for about a week that he wouldn't be selected for the No. 2 spot.

Republican leaders in Utah quickly rallied around Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as an exciting pick for McCain who will make voters put aside any disappointment over Romney not being named.

Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., a longtime supporter of McCain, said the choice of Alaska's first female and youngest-ever governor puts "two mavericks on the ticket." Huntsman said he went to bed Thursday night convinced McCain had selected Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he was moved to tears seeing Palin onstage with McCain. Hatch said it would have been difficult for McCain to have chosen a wealthy running mate. Romney built a personal fortune in the business world.

"None of us really expected Mitt to be picked by McCain. That was a tough primary," Hatch said, a reference to the often bitter fighting between the two before Romney dropped out of the presidential race in late February.

Others, including Utah GOP Chairman Stan Lockhart, hoped until the end that Romney would be the pick. Romney's popularity in Utah no doubt would have helped turn out the vote for other Republican candidates in November.

That popularity was demonstrated when Romney was still in the running for the Republican presidential nomination and won Utah's GOP presidential primary Feb. 5 with an overwhelming 90 percent of the vote.

"We love Mitt Romney. Utah loves Mitt Romney," Lockhart said. "I know as much about Republican politics as anyone in our state and up until the vice president was announced, I thought it was Mitt Romney."

But Romney may have been ruled out some time before McCain's much-anticipated announcement Friday morning at a campaign rally in Dayton, Ohio, the Deseret News has learned.

Romney and other vice presidential contenders were reportedly told by the campaign several weeks ago that if they were asked to appear on McCain's behalf in Denver during the Democratic National Convention, it meant they were out of the running.

This week, both Romney and Pawlenty stumped for McCain in Denver at the Republican National Committee's "Not Ready '08 Response Center" set up to counter the Democratic message.

While Romney was loud and clear in Denver Tuesday in his criticism of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, he had little to say about his vice-presidential chances.

After McCain made his pick official on Friday, Romney issued a statement calling Palin "a Washington outsider with a commitment to the conservative principles that will make our nation stronger."

Romney is scheduled to be in St. Paul, Minn., for the Republican National Convention that begins Monday and will speak to delegates on Tuesday. The only one of his five children living in Utah, Josh Romney, will be there to hear his address.

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Holland said the Republican's decision not to go with Romney "might lure some Republicans who are very disappointed" into voting against their party in November.

"I think it means in Utah we'll have the opportunity for a lot of voters to take a look at new candidates," Holland said, suggesting the "religious intolerance and bigotry" of the GOP's right wing toward Mormons may have cost Romney the nomination.

Romney's membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was questioned by some evangelical conservatives during his presidential bid because they did not view him as a fellow Christian.

Huntsman, though, said Romney's faith would not have hurt him with McCain. "I can't imagine that would be a deal-breaker," the governor said. "Certainly, the John McCain I know, that would not be a factor at all."

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