I met Governor Mitt Romney yesterday, shook his hand, told him we shared the same home town and told him "we were neighbors!". (no that's not me with him in the news photo, but I did get a photo with him)
Utahns shower Mitt with praise and cash
Candidate rakes in the bucks at 6-hour event at Salt Palace
While the campaign did not release the amount of money raised during the six-hour "Rally for Romney" at the Salt Palace Convention Center, the total was expected to be higher than the more than $100,000 collected earlier Friday at a private event in St. George.
"Holy cow, we're raising a lot of money," Romney told the hundreds of Utahns gathered at the convention center for the last of more than 50 similar grass-roots events held nationwide this month.
Rally participants were asked to raise at least $1,000 apiece by calling friends, family members and even random residents. In the first 1 1/2 hours of the Utah rally, nearly 30 people had already exceeded that goal.
But the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City needs a lot of money. Although Romney had collected more than $44 million by mid-year — the most of any GOP presidential candidate — he's spending a lot, too.
Utah has been a significant source of campaign cash for Romney, accounting for nearly $4 million of his midyear total. Only Californians have contributed more to Romney, who is a member of the LDS Church, as are the majority of Utahns.
And they were told the strategy is paying off, with Romney leading in polls in Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan and Nevada over better-known GOP front-runners, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Now, though, the campaign wants to build Romney's name recognition in other states, and that takes money. "We're counting on this rally," the campaign's finance director, Utahn Spencer Zwick, told the crowd.
Especially since the rally comes at the end of the third quarter for presidential fund raising. All presidential campaigns will have to report to the federal government by Oct. 15 how much was raised in the three months ending Sept. 30.
Romney gave an abbreviated version of his stump speech, describing faith and family as the American values he'll bring to the White House, along with conservatism, Republicanism and strength.
"And strong families. There's no work going on in America that's more important to the future of this country than the work that goes on within the four walls of the American home," he said to cheers. Mentions of the leading Democrats in the race drew boos.
Romney was mobbed by rally participants after his brief speech, including Evelyn Cann of West Jordan. Cann held a homemade sign that read, "Mitt Cann Win" for Romney to autograph.
"Incredible. I didn't expect that," Cann said of meeting the candidate. She said she arrived at the rally with $500 in checks and intended to raise more before leaving. "He has motivated me," Cann said. "He's my man."
Romney held a short press conference at the rally, telling local reporters, "It's obviously a thrill for me to be back in Salt Lake." He called the success of the 2002 Olympics "an accomplishment by a great community. ... I owe a great deal to the people of Utah."
He said while he's pleased to be doing well in the early-voting states, the race is expected to tighten up as the caucuses and primaries get under way in January. "I'll go up and I'll go down. But I'll be on the air because of the generosity of people here," Romney said.
Romney criticized Democratic health-care plans, which he described as "big government, big taxes and more spending," in favor of state-based private plans similar to what he did as governor of Massachusetts.
As for Iraq, Romney said, safe havens must not be left for terrorists. "That means we should maintain our presence there to prevent that from occurring," he said, "until the time when the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people can provide security themselves."
Romney said he supported school vouchers, an issue that will go before Utah voters in November. "I believe very strongly in school choice," he said. "I think it's a great idea for states to have school choice."