Romney or Huntsman: which way will Summit County swing?
July 5, 2011
They’re both popular in Park City and surrounding Summit County, two Republicans who have created a following in a Democratic-leaning area.
Both of them have been spotted in town over the years.
The two have or have had properties in Park City, either on their own or through their families.
So, which way might voters in Park City and Summit County swing when faced with a Republican presidential primary with Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman Jr. both on the ballot? It’s tough to tell, high-ranking local political figures say.
Romney is held in high regard in the area for his leadership of the 2002 Winter Olympics, when approximately half of the events were held in the Park City area. Huntsman, meanwhile, won over many Parkites with his moderate tendencies when he was Utah’s governor.
There will be other the candidates on the June 26, 2012 GOP primary ballot in Utah, but it is expected that Romney and Huntsman will be elbowing each other for the top two places in the state primary.
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The leader of the Utah Republican Party sees Huntsman as having a slight advantage over Romney in Summit County, pointing to his term as the state’s governor.
Thomas Wright, the chairman of the state party, says people in the county remember Huntsman for his support of loosening Utah’s notoriously stringent liquor laws, something that was received well in tourism-heavy Park City. They also see him as being successful as a unifying political figure, he says.
"I think Gov. Huntsman has a lot of appeal to people in Summit County," Wright says.
Wright, though, also says Romney has many friends still living in Summit County. Romney helmed the Winter Olympics, taking over amid the bribery scandal, and spent lots of time in Park City during that era. He has since sold his Park City mansion, but people remain pleased with his performance then.
"Mitt did a phenomenal job organizing the Olympics," Wright said. "People there respect his ability to lead."
With the two on the ballot, it is anticipated there will be widespread local interest in the Republican primary next summer. There have been rumblings that either of them could visit Park City on a fundraising trip, events that could further heighten the buzz among local voters.
Both Romney and Huntsman have proven popular with voters in Summit County. In the 2008 gubernatorial campaign, when Huntsman won re-election, he more than doubled the vote count of his Democratic rival in the county. Huntsman won 69 percent of the Summit County votes that year, a fete in a county that is seen as leaning Democratic.
Meanwhile, in the 2008 Republican presidential primary, Romney’s Summit County results thumped those of the other GOP contenders. He amassed nearly five times the number of votes in the county as the second-place finisher, John McCain, the eventual Republican nominee.
Henry Glasheen, the chairman of the Summit County Republican Party, gives Romney a slight edge and says local voters "have a high level of comfort with both of them." He said one of them has a solid chance of winning Summit County in the primary.
"I think Romney still has the upper hand. This changes the math," Glasheen says about Huntsman’s entry into the GOP field.
Glasheen says Huntsman needs to mount an aggressive national campaign if he wants to gain political ground on Romney locally.
"If Huntsman does not come out swinging, I believe Romney will win Summit County," he says.
Another ranking Republican in Summit County, state Rep. Mel Brown, is a Romney supporter. Brown served in the Statehouse during part of Huntsman’s term as governor and says Huntsman’s popularity in the state did not necessarily reflect his performance. Romney would better handle the economy, he says.
"It will be interesting to see where the county lines up," Brown says.