Ray Freer in 2008 cast his presidential vote for Barack Obama, saying the Democratic Illinois senator's hope-and-change campaign was attractive.
A Park Meadows man who is retired from the real estate industry, Freer on Wednesday made his choices in this year's campaign, voting in the pre-Election Day balloting period. His pick in the presidential contest was Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate and a figure who remains highly regarded in the Park City area from his days leading the 2002 Winter Olympics. Romney was a Park City homeowner in that era and spent a substantial amount of time in the community, giving him ties to the area like no other presidential candidate in history.
Romney would better handle the country's financial situation, debt and spending included, Freer said, calling the U.S. "toast as we know it today" if significant changes are not made. But Freer split his vote as he considered candidates lower on the ticket, notably choosing Democrat Donna McAleer in the campaign for the 1st Congressional District. McAleer, a newcomer to politics, is challenging Congressman Rob Bishop. The incumbent has had little difficulty over the years dispatching his Democratic opponents.
"It doesn't bother me in the slightest. I think we should always vote for (the) individual rather than the party," Freer said as he praised McAleer for her background and what he sees as her civility and willingness to work with the Republicans.
Democrats up and down the ticket this year in Summit County are almost certainly hoping many other voters hold views similar to those of Freer. The Democratic Party typically fares well in Summit County, a reliably blue locale in a predominantly red state. Having Romney at the top of the ticket, though, could prove troublesome for Democrats, particularly in a tight campaign.
The presidential contest is expected to be of special interest in Utah this year with Romney carrying the Republican flag. That could drive higher turnout among Republican voters even in a state where the presidential results would be lopsided toward the GOP candidate anyway. If the Republicans vote in higher numbers to support Romney, the impact could trickle down to the congressional, Statehouse and County Courthouse campaigns. The impact could be further pronounced if the Romney supporters cast straight-party ballots for the Republicans instead of selecting candidates on a campaign-by-campaign basis.
"The bottom line is we're not running against Romney," McAleer said.
The Pinebrook Democrat said she has heard from other voters like Freer who plan to cast a McAleer vote in the congressional campaign while selecting Romney over Obama. They "want change, period," she said.
McAleer conceded, though, the impact on the results should Romney supporters select the straight-party voting option. She also acknowledged Romney's name on the ballot will attract some voters to the polls who might not otherwise cast a ballot. McAleer said her opponent is campaigning with that hope.
"Bishop is running on betting there's going to be a Romney administration, and as a Romney disciple," she said.
Romney's ties to the Park City area extend to before the highly successful Winter Olympics, when approximately half of the events were held locally. He owned a mansion in the city prior to his 1999 appointment to lead the Olympic organizing committee. He kept the house afterward, selling it a year after he unsuccessfully campaigned for the 2008 Republican White House nomination. He has held fundraising events locally and was in Park City in June to lead a large policy gathering of supporters and top-tier Republicans.
Election Day will mark Romney's third appearance on the ballot in Utah, following the primary elections in 2008 and 2012. He had already fended off his opponents for the White House nomination when Utah held its primary in June of this year. He won more than 91 percent of the vote in Summit County.
The 2008 primary, held at a crucial point in the nominating process, probably offers a more telling description of Romney's potential in Summit County. That year, against eventual nominee John McCain and other Republicans like Mike Huckabee and Rudy Giuliani, Romney captured 76.4 percent of the Republican votes in Summit County. It was an impressive win in a competitive campaign and it will be difficult for him to grab similar numbers on Tuesday in Summit County. Obama won the county on Election Day in 2008 with 56.7 percent of the vote.
Max Greenhalgh, a Republican seeking a seat on the Summit County Council, said Romney's name on the ballot could, perhaps, push his own results up by a percentage point or two. It will not be a "difference maker," he said. The onetime Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioner said he is more interested in distinguishing himself as a candidate than hoping Romney's support will reach to his contest.
"There's always going to be a little bit of a coattail effect," he said, adding, "I'm certainly not taking it for granted."
The chairman of the Summit County Democratic Party, Glenn Wright, predicts any Romney effect will be more pronounced on a statewide basis than in Summit County, contending that straight-party votes are less prevalent locally than elsewhere in Utah. He said McAleer's presence on the ballot helps counter any impact Romney would have on the other campaigns, saying it is "pretty much a trade-off."
"I think she will definitely blunt a lot of the Romney effect in Summit County," Wright said.
He said, though, there could be an impact on one of the local state House of Representatives campaigns -- District 54 between Democrat Chris Robinson and Republican Kraig Powell. The district stretches into Wasatch County, where Romney is anticipated to enjoy strong support.
Wright's GOP counterpart, Summit County Republican Party Chairman Henry Glasheen, sees a Romney impact being apparent in the federal-level campaigns and the contest for the governor's mansion. He predicts heavy voting in those decisions. The County Courthouse results, such as in the campaign for a Summit County Council seat between incumbent Democrat Claudia McMullin and Republican Sue Pollard, will not have been influenced by the top of the ticket should the Republican win, he said.
"I don't think Sue Pollard could thank Mitt Romney," he said, contemplating a Pollard win. "She could thank Sue Pollard."