Romney rolls in local dollars |

Romney rolls in local dollars

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Thirty-one years ago, a team of consultants from Boston sat down with Dave Duke, then a manager in the telecommunications division of Corning Glass, to chat about business.

Duke especially remembers one of them: Mitt Romney. He was starting his business career and, Duke recalls, already appeared to be a leader.

Duke, who is 71 years old and supports Romney’s bid for the White House, was not mulling the Republican’s political career then but was impressed nonetheless.

"You don’t think of that stuff," says Duke, who lives in Solamere. "I just thought he was a very bright, capable guy."

Duke plans to attend a Saturday night fundraiser for Romney at Goldener Hirsch, the ritzy restaurant in Silver Lake. Romney is scheduled to appear at the event, an acknowledgement of the big money he is raising in Park City.

The event is private and Romney’s handlers refuse to say how much the campaign is expected to bring in or how many people are invited. A guest list is not available. There has been much local chatter about the fundraiser, with people trying to figure out who will be there and how successful the event will be.

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Romney’s popularity in Park City, which typically votes Democratic, remains intact five years after he helmed the successful Winter Olympics, with about half of the competitions and much of the revelry held in and around Park City. He has owned a Deer Valley home for years and many Parkites tell stories of meeting him around town. He seems to have won at least some accolades from left-leaning Parkites and many conservatives in the city are fans.

He has already wowed local donors and, heading into the Saturday fundraiser, his campaign account bulges with money from the Park City area.

According to the Federal Election Commission, in the first quarter of 2007, the Romney campaign raised $109,200 in the 84060 zip code, where much of Park City is situated. The zip code ranked No. 14 in the nation for him during the period. He brought in another $66,450 in the outlying 84098 zip code.

Stan Lockhart, the chairman of the Utah Republican Party, was unaware of the Deer Valley fundraiser until told of the event by a reporter this week. He advises the Romney campaign not to expect to win the Utah Republican primary, on Feb. 5, 2008, without working for a victory but he also acknowledges Romney won a recent straw poll of about 1,500 GOP faithful in Utah with more than 80 percent of the tally.

"Here is a candidate who’s spent a great deal of time in Utah. He led the Olympic effort, which was a success from anyone’s standard," Lockhart says. "I think his track record is positive."

The state party has not endorsed a candidate. Lockhart says he is unsure if Romney’s fundraising efforts in Park City will be more successful than others if they visit. There has been talk that local supporters of Barack Obama want him to visit Park City for a fundraiser this year but details have not been discussed publicly.

The leader of the local Democrats figures Romney’s appearance on Saturday will be lucrative. Laura Bonham, the chairwoman of the Summit County Democratic Party, says Romney has a chance to win the Republican primaries in Utah and Idaho but she predicts he will not finish first in other states, saying, "there’s a difference between running the country and running the Olympics."

"I’m sure he’ll find wealthy supporters in Park City. I’m sure he will," Bonham says, recalling his time leading the Salt Lake Organizing Committee.

Should Romney win the Republican nomination, Bonham says, he will lose in Summit County on Election Day 2008.

"If folks have been following his campaign and what he’s saying, some of that affection is diminished," Bonham says, adding, "He’s flip-flopped on gay rights. He’s flip-flopped on abortion. He’s flip-flopped on a number of things."

Duke, the Romney supporter who lives in Solamere, gave the campaign $2,300 between January and March and his wife gave the same amount in that period. Duke says he’s met other politicians, including Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and Romney has the same sort of intellect. He says Romney pays attention intently and is "very, very bright" and "quick."

"The thing I look for in a president is someone who is a good listener, who is smart, is a change agent and makes things happen," Duke says. "All of which Mitt does extremely well."