BLOOMINGTON, Minn. Today Utah delegates to the Republican National Convention here welcomed the candidate most of them really wanted to vote for in November, Mitt Romney.
Romney, who ended his White House bid last February, was a top contender for the vice presidential nomination but, just last Friday, John McCain surprised his party by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the No. 2.
That hasn't slowed down Romney's efforts on behalf of McCain. Not only has Romney raised a reported $20 million for the presumptive presidential nominee, he has already hit the campaign trail for McCain and Palin.
Romney chose Utah for his first appearance after arriving in Minnesota for what will be an abbreviated convention due to Hurricane Gustav. Utahns not only gave him 90 percent of the vote in the state's GOP primary on Feb. 5, they also contributed $6 million to his campaign.
He entered the suburban Bloomington hotel meeting room like a rock star, shaking hands, posing for pictures and greeting many Republicans by name. When he made his way to the podium, he was greeted by a standing ovation.
Romney started by thanking Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert and others who supported him. He did not mention, of course. Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who bucked Utah politics by backing McCain more than two years ago.
"Utah holds a very special place in my heart as you know," Romney said, describing the state as something of an ancestral home. He also cited his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, taking over in 1999 in the midst of a bribery scandal.
"I learned something about the people of Utah," Romney said of that experience, noting nearly 50,000 Utahns signed up to volunteer during the Olympics despite the negative publicity.
He also praised the strength of the GOP in Utah. "The thing I love about Utah is it is a dark, dark red. Your rocks are red and you vote red," Romney said, noting the national party felt no obligation to locate Utah delegates any where near the actual convention in St. Paul.
Romney also made it clear he wants his delegates to cast their votes at the convention for McCain. There has been some talk that at least one Utah delegate, national committeewoman Nancy Lord, plans to ask from the convention floor to be able to vote for Romney.
Lord said despite Romney's request, she felt she had no choice because of her interpretation of party rules.
After his speech, Romney told reporters he planned to continue campaigning for the GOP even after November. But he said "no thanks" to another run for the White House, even though he said his own campaign was a good experience despite some mistakes which he declined to enumerate.
"I do not anticipate doing it again. It's hard to imagine something like that," Romney said.
He also told reporters yet again he never expected to be chosen McCain's vice president and dismissed press reports that his staff has privately complained he and Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty were both used as decoys by the McCain campaign.
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