With GOP presidential candidate John McCain trailing in the polls, there's increasing speculation over who's most likely to be the party's pick for 2012, Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin.
McCain chose Palin, Alaska's governor, over Romney and other contenders for the No. 2 spot on the ticket. But the increasing likelihood she won't be elected vice president means the Republican nomination may be up for grabs four years from now.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor claimed by Utahns as a favorite son candidate before he dropped out of this year's presidential race, appears to be positioning himself for another run for the White House.
According to his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney has done 20 events for the GOP ticket since April including seven since the GOP convention and more than double that for other Republican candidates around the country.
The former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City also has contributed more than $375,000 from his Free and Strong America political action committee to a variety of conservative candidates and causes.
Those causes include California's Proposition 8, which would reverse that state's Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage there earlier this year. Romney donated $10,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, Fehrnstrom said.
"The governor feels strongly that marriage is an institution between a man and a woman, and one of the most high-profile fights on this subject is happening in California," Fehrnstrom said.
The contribution from Romney, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is "completely unconnected" to the church's own involvement in the issue, Fehrnstrom said.
He said Romney has also given $5,000 to help defeat the "Sensible Marijuana Policy Initiative" on the Massachusetts ballot this November. That initiative would decriminalize possession of less an ounce of marijuana.
And Romney came up with $50,000 for Michigan's "demoralized" state Republican party to help GOP candidates there after the McCain campaign conceded the state, he said. Michigan was Romney's most important win in the GOP primary.
Fehrnstrom outlined the governor's activities after being asked to respond to an anonymous blog posting on the conservative American Spectator Web site that labeled Romney "anti-Palin."
The posting suggested that unnamed former Romney staffers now working for McCain are spreading anti-Palin spin to reporters, including that she is a diva and that Romney was only willing to travel for McCain if the national media were covering him.
Not true, Fehrnstrom said, calling the posting "totally preposterous."
He made a point of downplaying the chances Romney would make another bid for the presidency. Romney, his spokesman said, "lost fair and square. I doubt that opportunity will come along again."
One of Romney's staunchest supporters in Utah, Kirk Jowers of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said there's no question Romney is the leading contender for the party's nomination in 2012.
"Republicans are nothing if not predictable," Jowers, now head of Utah Lawyers for McCain, said. "Republicans have nominated the second-place finisher in every election since 1976, with the exception of our current president."
Plus, he said, questions are already being raised about Palin's loyalty to the ticket. Reports have surfaced that she has angered McCain staffers by straying from prepared speeches to answer her critics.
"Fair or not, she simply has not distinguished herself as a competent vice presidential candidate, and that is going to be a heavy anchor to drag into 2012," Jowers said, comparing her to Dan Quayle, a former vice president seen as a "nice guy but not smart enough."
McCain's Utah-based Western states regional coordinator, Tim Bridgewater, said it's too soon to be talking about 2012 because there's still hope the GOP will win the White House this year."People are making a mistake if they're thinking about that now," Bridgewater said. "These elections can turn in a few days on a single story. We're going to battle until the last hour."