BLOOMINGTON, Minn. Utah delegates to the Republican National Convention here welcomed on Monday the candidate most of them really wanted to vote for in November Mitt Romney.
Romney chose Utah for his first appearance after arriving in Minnesota for the start of an abbreviated convention due to Hurricane Gustav. Romney's political payback was entirely justified. After all, Utahns not only contributed $6 million to his unsuccessful presidential campaign, but they also gave him 90 percent of the vote in the state's GOP primary on Feb. 5.
The former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City 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 given a standing ovation.
Romney started by thanking Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert and others who supported him. He did not mention Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who bucked Utah politics by backing John McCain more than two years ago.
"Utah holds a very special place in my heart, as you know," Romney said, describing the state as his ancestral home. He also spoke of his experience running the Olympics after taking over the troubled effort in the midst of a bribery scandal.
"I learned something about the people of Utah," Romney said, noting nearly 50,000 Utahns ignored the taint associated with the Olympics and signed up to volunteer.
He also praised the strength of the GOP in Utah. "There is one more thing I love about the great state of Utah and that is that it is a dark, dark red. Your rocks are red and you vote red," Romney said, joking that the national party felt no need locating Utah delegates in a hotel near St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, where the convention is being held.
At the urging of Utah party leaders, Romney 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 later that despite Romney's request, she feels obligated to follow what she believes are the party's 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 elaborate.
"I do not anticipate doing it again. It's hard to imagine something like that," Romney said.
The same goes for a spot in a McCain Cabinet, he said, because of what he saw when his father, the late George Romney, served as President Nixon's secretary of housing and urban development.
"I really would not enjoy being in the Cabinet," Romney said.
He also told reporters yet again that he never expected to be chosen McCain's vice president. McCain surprised political watchers Friday by choosing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the No. 2 spot on the ticket.
Romney also said his Mormon faith was not the reason he lost the presidential primary or why he was passed over by McCain as a vice presidential nominee.
"I think John McCain's successful campaign is why he became the nominee," Romney said. "... In terms of the v.p. choice, I think he brought someone on his ticket who had a solid record as being a reformer and a maverick that he thought would be able to connect with not only the base of our party but people in other parties."
Later in the day, after news broke that Palin's unmarried teenaged daughter was pregnant, Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom told Congressional Quarterly, "Nothing has changed."
Ferhnstrom called the situation "a very personal matter for the Palin family. We should all respect the love they have for the child and the desire all parents would have for their children's privacy."
Despite having no place on the party's ticket, Romney continues to attract national media attention. Both ABC and NBC sent network crews to cover the breakfast meeting. Romney hasn't slowed down his efforts on behalf of McCain, hitting the campaign trail over the weekend and scheduling numerous appearances during the convention.The Utah delegates were clearly thrilled to have Romney as a guest. Utah GOP Chairman Stan Lockhart told them, "For those who keep complaining we don't get 'A' list people to our events, I'm not sure what else we can do."
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