Stateline Story

Will Utah Move Its Primary at Romney's Request?

With two high-profile Mormon candidates running for the White House, Utah is already attracting attention as a potential battleground on the path to the Republican presidential nomination next year. One of those candidates, however, wants the state to play an even bigger role.

The campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney is lobbying Utah election officials to move up the state's primary election from June to early next spring, The Salt Lake Tribune reported earlier this week . The move is aimed not only at giving Utah a bigger role in the nominating process, but at helping Romney as he seeks to defeat the other big-name Mormon candidate in the field - Jon Huntsman Jr., Utah's two-term former governor and the former U.S. ambassador to China.

Romney has been popular in Utah since the 2002 Winter Olympic Games, which were held in Salt Lake City and were facing insolvency before he helped manage the event back into the black. He is currently out-polling Huntsman in Utah, and an early primary victory in the heavily Mormon state could help him deliver a blow to a potentially serious rival who only recently announced his candidacy.

"Losing his home state wouldn't be devastating to Huntsman," political analyst Reid Wilson told The Salt Lake Tribune , "but it would prove a major embarrassment and at a time when every single news story is crucial, it would raise questions about why he lost the one state he should definitely win."

But the Romney campaign faces challenges in getting Utah to change its primary date. For one thing, doing so would cost taxpayers as much as $3 million. It also would require the approval of state lawmakers and the current governor, Gary Herbert, who may not want to be seen as favoring one candidate over another.

Changing the date could be especially awkward for Utah's executive branch. Herbert was Huntsman's lieutenant governor and took over the executive office when Huntsman became ambassador to China. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell - who oversees elections in the state - has already come out in favor of Romney.