Hint: It's definitely not Massachusetts
Let’s say you’re a long-serving Republican senator and you’re running for reelection. You’re no moderate, but over the years you’ve signed off on your share of deals with Democrats – compromises that are now being recycled by your party’s base, which is already suspicious of you because of your entrenched status, to prove that you’re not a true conservative. You are, consequently, facing your first real primary challenge since coming to office.
If this is your predicament, then one of the last things you’d want is for Mitt Romney – the man whose conservative credentials are held in such suspect regard by today’s GOP base that he was at times during the GOP primary race lapped in the polls by Donald Trump, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum – to make a high-profile visit to your state to campaign with you. Unless, that is, the state you represent is Utah.
When Romney visits the Beehive State later today to appear with Orrin Hatch, it should provide a real boost for the 78-year-old incumbent, who is being challenged by Dan Liljenquist in a June 26 primary, with the Utah GOP’s conservative base. This probably has something to do with the celebrated role Romney played in rescuing the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics from ruin, but the real reason he’s such a rock star in the state is his Mormonism, a faith that about 60 percent of Utah’s residents (and probably a much bigger share of the GOP voting universe) share.
This is the flip side of Romney’s “evangelical problem.” In state after state during the GOP primaries, Romney faced stiff resistance from white evangelicals, who continued to shy away from him even when it became clear he’d be the Republican nominee. Utah’s GOP base is as conservative (and as focused on cultural issues) as the average evangelical-dominated GOP base is in other states, but here Romney’s faith is a magnet. Utah’s presidential primary won’t take place until June 26, but in 2008 it was held on Super Tuesday, when the race was still competitive. The result back then: Romney 90 percent, John McCain 5.
That would be an astounding number even for a presidential candidate running in his own state. In fact, Romney actually struggled in his real home state in ’08, holding off McCain in Massachusetts by just 10 points, 51 to 41. Those struggles speak to the more moderate complexion of Massachusetts’ Republican electorate (especially with independent voters allowed to participate in primaries), and to the considerable ill will Romney generated by essentially walking out on the governorship halfway through his term.
Ironically, Romney was once torn over whether to pursue his political career in Utah or Massachusetts. When he was overseeing Olympic preparations in 2001, it looked like there’d be no major office for him to seek in Massachusetts in the near future, with Republican Jane Swift vowing to seek a full term as governor in 2002 and with Ted Kennedy and John Kerry ensconced in the Senate. This is when Romney began positioning himself for a possible 2004 gubernatorial run in Utah, writing a letter to the Salt Lake Tribune in which he partially retreated from the pro-choice position he’d claimed in Massachusetts. But Swift’s standing in Massachusetts soon collapsed, allowing Romney to return to the state after the Olympics and scoop up the GOP’s gubernatorial nod.
A decade later, Romney still has plenty of friends in the Massachusetts Republican world. But the only place where he’s a genuine hero with the GOP base is in Utah.
Steve Kornacki writes about politics for Salon. Reach him by email at SKornacki@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @SteveKornacki More Steve Kornacki.
More Related Stories
- If Alex Pareene was a cable news executive...
- Portland's senseless war on fluoride
- Graphic video reportedly shows possible London machete attack suspect
- What economists get wrong about the jobs crisis
- Ted Cruz: "I don't trust the Republicans"
- Pa. governor "can't find" any Latinos to work in his administration
- Glenn Beck: "The American people have just been raped"
- "Original Coca-Cola had a very small amount of cocaine"
- Corporations accused of wrongdoing win battle to keep identities secret
- Weak, incompetent Democrats blow another one
- Lois Lerner, IRS disaster
- Cyber attacks could cause the next world war
- Donald Rumsfeld worried that marriage equality will lead to polygamy
- Experts: Fox News spying scandal a game-changer
- Biden cracks Obama teleprompter joke
- IRS official takes the Fifth: "I have not done anything wrong"
- Lessons from Lincoln leave gay immigrants behind
- Los Angeles elects first Jewish mayor
- Peter King: There's "hypocrisy" over aid by Oklahoma senators
- Anthony Weiner announces run for NYC mayor
- How policy nihilists in the Senate doomed LGBT immigrants
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
War Room is our political news and commentary blog, with coverage and commentary throughout the day.