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Richard Piatt Reporting Presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in Utah over the weekend.
While he was in Logan, Salt Lake City and Deer Valley, he talked to supporters and reporters. But he sat down to spend extra time with our Richard Piatt.
Candidate Mitt Romney is not that different, personally, from Olympic boss Mitt Romney. When we sat down for our interview, he was in a relaxed mood. We shared a joke, reminisced about his days in Utah, and got into the several meaty issues that are and will be defining the race for the presidency.
Even Mitt Romney is surprised at how far he's come in such a short time.
"It's going very well, I must admit," he said. "At this stage six months or a year ago, I was hardly known across the country. And I've devoted my resources in the primary states. At this point I'm either in the lead or tied for the lead, and that's very good news, a lot better than I would have expected a year ago."
Romney appears willing and capable of answering any question thrown his way. He's getting particularly accustomed to answering the inevitable question about his Mormon faith.
"I'm always asked about my faith," he admits. "I point out to people that we don't choose our political leaders from where they go to church. We choose them on their values."
He says he hasn't made a decision about doing a "defining speech" on his faith, like John F. Kennedy did nearly 50 years ago.
He did say he's worried about another terrorist attack in America, and supports a strong defense. But he is critical of the conduct of the war in Iraq.
"Well, Iraq has not been terribly well managed over the last few years," he said. "The administration has. I think we were undermanned and underprepared and underplanned for what occurred following Saddam Hussein's collapse. We are where we are. I support the troop surge. We'll see if it's working or not."
Whether or not his faith turns out to be a defining issue in the race, Romney is plagued by perceptions that he has not been consistent in his position on key issues.
"There are a lot of people in this country overall who are very cynical of candidates who they feel will say or do anything to get elected," Piatt said. "You've changed your position on abortion and gay rights. What do you say to people who think that's what you've done in those cases?"
Romney responded, "Well, it was a very difficult decision as I came into political office, about what to do about abortion. I feel very strongly that abortion is wrong, that a person faced with that choice should not choose abortion. But the question was, what should the role of government be?
"I'm not going to apologize for being more strongly pro-life. I can say that on other issues, of course you should expect a political leader to change their mind. Anyone running for president, among all the top tier, leaders change their mind on issues from time to time as they find new information or better thinking has led them to a different conclusion."
Richard Piatt asked, "If you were running against yourself, what would you highlight that gets to the heart of what you're all about?"
"Well, if I was running against myself, I would just say, 'Vote for Mitt Romney, he's the best guy,'" Romney replied.
He went on to say, "You know, my job is to take my message across the country. And my message is pretty straightforward. My message that the Republican party and the nation at large benefit from having three pillars of strength, or three legs to the stool. A strong military, a strong economy, and strong families and values.
"It's a message Ronald Reagan took to America, and won support from Republicans, Democrats and Independents. And it will win again for us, if we are very serious about strengthening our military again, strengthening our economy by keeping our burden of government down, and strengthening American homes with strong families and strong values."
Actually, there are several candidates who are chiming in with a similar mission right now.
Romney does get a lot of attention here in Utah. He's a favorite in key primary states. But when other presidential candidates visit the state, we'll put in a request to interview them, too.