Five floors apart in a Salt Lake City office complex, Lew Cramer and Lane Beattie have much in common: they are best friends and serve on each other’s business boards.
What these two Republicans disagree about is who is the most qualified presidential candidate. Cramer supports Jon Huntsman Jr., Utah’s former governor, while Beattie prefers Mitt Romney, who led fundraising for the state’s 2002 Olympics.
“In this state there are a lot of divided loyalties, there’s no question about it,” said Cramer, the World Trade Center Utah chief executive officer, who endorsed Romney in 2008 and switched to Huntsman this year. “I’ve had friends kid me a lot about being a traitor” even though he’s backing a native of the state.
Their split points to a broader divide among Utah Republicans over the two candidates who also have shared backgrounds: both are Mormons, businessmen and former governors. In interviews, Utah Republicans regularly refer to them interchangeably as “favorite sons.”
Yet it’s Romney, who grew up in Michigan and was governor of Massachusetts, who has the edge over Huntsman, who spent much of his life in Utah. Romney is leading in polls, has more local endorsements, and raised more money in the state than Huntsman. Romney reported $1.9 million in contributions from Utah residents through Sept. 30, the most recent figures available -- about seven times as much as Huntsman, who took in $255,850, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington- based research group.
“It put a lot of us in a precarious position,” said U.S. House Representative Jason Chaffetz, who ran Huntsman’s first campaign for governor in 2004 and served as his chief of staff.
“It’s not that I’m anti-Huntsman, but I am very pro-Mitt Romney,” added Chaffetz, who has campaigned with Romney in New Hampshire. “I just think he would make a better president. I think he has the best opportunity to beat Barack Obama.”
About 60 Utah legislators endorsed Romney, compared with two for Huntsman, Chaffetz said. A Salt Lake Tribune poll in August found that 71 percent of Utah residents who identified themselves as Republicans supported Romney, compared with 13 percent for Huntsman.
New Hampshire Primary
The two candidates will be among those facing off in tomorrow’s New Hampshire primary. Huntsman, who is behind in polls and fundraising, has staked his candidacy on a top finish there. The Boston Globe, the largest newspaper in Romney’s home state, endorsed Huntsman last week. A Boston-based Suffolk University poll released yesterday had Romney with 35 percent support, compared to Huntsman’s third-place 11 percent.
In Utah, taking sides isn’t easy. Romney and Huntsman are battling for resources in a close-knit, family-centric business community, testing many longstanding relationships. Cramer wept during an interview as he described serving steak and pie for Christmas dinner at a Salt Lake homeless shelter with longtime friend Huntsman.
Others, including business and political leaders with personal ties to Huntsman and his family, say they believe it’s Romney’s turn because he’s older -- and put in his time serving the state during the Olympics. Romney is 64, Huntsman, 51.
“By law I had to approve Mitt’s budget,” said Beattie, president and chief executive of the Salt Lake Chamber and the state’s chief Olympics officer, who oversaw Romney’s work for several years. “He was very direct. He said ‘Here’s the budget, here’s what we’re going to raise.’ He was a master.”
Romney and Huntsman are both popular in Utah. Romney won 90 percent of the state’s Republican primary in 2008. Voters elected Huntsman to a second term as governor in 2008 with 78 percent of the vote. Colleagues of both say the two have been competitive for years and that tensions between their camps rose when Huntsman endorsed Arizona Senator John McCain in the 2008 Republican presidential primary rather than Romney. McCain is backing Romney in this year’s primary.
Romney’s ability to turn the scandal-plagued 2002 Winter Olympics into a profitable venture is cited by many here as their chief reason for supporting him. He was hired following allegations that city officials provided favors to International Olympic Committee delegates to win the games.
The Bain Capital founder culled unnecessary items from the budget and raised additional funds to finish building local venues, those who worked closely with him recalled. He also hired advisers and recruited about 24,000 volunteers, persuading the International Olympic Committee to house them for about 10 days.
‘Huge Economic Problems’
“We thought Mitt was the best we could hire to solve some huge economic problems,” said State Senator John Valentine, a Romney-backer who served as Senate president under Huntsman and as chairman of the Olympics oversight committee.
“I’m again looking to hire someone to solve huge economic problems for our economy,” said Valentine, who called Huntsman a “really good friend.”
Cramer met Huntsman when he was 28 and both were working for President George H.W. Bush in the Commerce Department. Huntsman called Cramer in 2006 and asked him to start the World Trade Center. Since then, Utah doubled exports as New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado lost them, Cramer said.
“That was because of the leadership of Governor Huntsman,” Cramer said. “There are almost 100,000 jobs in Utah directly related to exports. That’s pretty powerful in a state with less than 3 million people.”
On the stump in New Hampshire, Huntsman points to his economic accomplishments in the post, including saying he implemented a 5 percent flat tax. His stewardship helped the state lead the nation in job creation in the mid 2000s, Huntsman says, adding that Massachusetts was 47th at the time.
Influential Utah residents say the fundraising and campaign networks that Romney built over the last four years give them greater confidence in his chances of winning the presidency than Huntsman’s economic record.
“I’ll tell you flat out politically I’m more aligned with Jon Huntsman,” said Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who has served under four governors, including Huntsman. “He’s more moderate on a number of issues, including immigration,” he said.
“But you have to support the person for president who will do the best job and who has the best background and leadership experience and that’s why I chose Romney.”
Huntsman’s comments about his Mormon religious beliefs when he returned to the U.S. this spring after serving as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China have put off some Utah natives.
Remarks on Religion
“It’s really hard for an outsider to understand this, but a lot of the backwash has to do with when he returned and people started interviewing him about his background and he said ‘I’m not religious, I’m spiritual,’” said Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, who endorsed Romney.
“I felt he was distancing himself from Utah and Utah values and the Latter Day Saints in general.”
Longtime Huntsman friends, many of whom hail from the state’s oldest and wealthiest families, said they don’t sense any hard feelings because of their choice to endorse Romney.
Utah Jazz Chief Executive Officer Greg Miller, whose family owns a number of business ventures, including the Miller Motorsports Park where Huntsman occasionally raced, said he tried to communicate clearly to the Huntsmans why he endorsed Romney.
“Our family’s relationship with the Romneys isn’t as broad or deep as it is with the Huntsmans,” said Miller in an interview in his 10th floor office, with a commanding view of ski slopes.
“I’ve had multiple interactions with the Huntsman family since then and haven’t felt any signs there were hard feelings,” said Miller, whose father helped Huntsman in his bid for governor. “I treated it more like a business decision.”
© Copyright 2016 Bloomberg News. All rights reserved.