Mitt Romney’s camp is out with a statement flagging dozens of prominent Utah Republicans who stand publicly with Romney. Though they don’t say it out right, Team Romney’s statement is a veiled attack on the man many still think could be his biggest rival once things really get going on the presidential campaign trail: Jon Huntsman.
Huntsman’s firmly entrenched in nowheresville in current polling, but the former Utah governor’s polish and perceived general election saleability still put him in the top ranks of presidential chatter. As the other Mormon in the race — and the other candidate with strong Utah connections — Romney’s folks seem to think doing well in Utah shows they’ve got the upper hand on Huntsman.
Huntsman’s campaign declined to comment on the record. But even his former allies are choosing Romney over him, giving Romney a bit of a boost in a state not likely to play a major role in deciding the nominee.
Both men have strong connections to the state that go beyond their religion. Huntsman is a native and the son of a wealthy family. Romney helped the state manage the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and experience that helped propel him further onto the national stage and is generally seen as one of his successes.
On Tuesday, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) — a tea party favorite and Huntsman’s former gubernatorial chief of staff — told the Huffington Post’s Jon Ward he’s a Romney man in 2012.
“I like them both, but I want to beat Barack Obama and I think Mitt Romney’s in the best position to do that. I think he’s the right person at the right time,” Chaffetz told Ward. He said that, “if the economy is your greatest concern, there is nobody better than Mitt Romney.”
The sentiment seems to be catching. Romney’s campaign listed Sen. Orrin Hatch, who many think Chaffetz will challenge for the Republican Senate nomination next year, as a public endorser. He’s on the list along with Utah’s attorney general, lieutenant governor, Republican state Senate leadership as well as the Republican majority leader in the state House (to name a few.)
This support probably won’t mean much in the overall nomination fight, where support in states like New Hampshire and Nevada and South Carolina means a lot more than endorsements in Utah. But it helps put to bed one enduring question from the presidential campaign so far: with two Mormons on the ticket, who will Utah Republicans (the establishment ones anyway) choose to support?