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LAS VEGAS — Likely GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney raised $10.25 million Monday at a daylong fundraiser in the early voting state of Nevada with the help of Rep. Jason Chaffetz and other Utahns.
"As today's event makes clear, Gov. Romney will have the resources to be competitive and to spread his jobs and economy message," said Romney's finance chair, Spencer Zwick, a Utahn who filled a similar role in the 2008 campaign.
Romney held a similar phone bank fundraiser in Boston at the start of his 2008 campaign with 400 supporters and raised more than $6.5 million. This time, twice as many Romney backers from around the country were on hand Monday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
I haven't endorsed yet. Presidential elections are volatile. It's very early in the process.
The fundraiser began Monday with Romney promising his supporters in a conference call, "I will get America on the right track again" and asking them to contribute to his campaign.
He said raising a lot of money for his presidential exploratory committee during the daylong event will send a message that his is a "credible and effective campaign" that will be successful.
Romney said the event was being held this time in Nevada because it is a key early voting state in the presidential primary process and to help an economy that's suffering double-digit unemployment.
He took the opportunity to criticize Obama's handling of the nation's financial crisis. "I've been very disappointed with the president," Romney said. "His economic plans have not worked. … I don't think he really loves free enterprise and capitalism."
His strength as a candidate, Romney said, is his "experience in turning things around that were going in the wrong direction," including as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Chaffetz told the Deseret News he participated in the fundraiser because, "My number one goal is I want to beat Barack Obama. I think Mitt Romney right now is in the best position to do that."
But the Republican congressman stopped short of backing Romney over other White House contenders, including his one-time boss, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. Chaffetz ran Huntsman's gubernatorial campaign and served as his first chief of staff.
"I haven't endorsed yet," Chaffetz said, noting Huntsman had not yet asked him for any help. "Presidential elections are volatile. It's very early in the process."
Other Utahns joining Romney in Las Vegas included Fraser Bullock, Romney's No. 2 at the Salt Lake Organizing Committee; blogger and near-fatal plane crash survivor Stephanie Nielsen; and developer and longtime friend Kem Gardner.
Even a couple of Olympians showed up — speedskaters Derek Parra and Dan Jansen.
Gov. Gary Herbert was reportedly invited, but did not attend.
Absent from the event was anyone from the Huntsman family. In 2008, Huntsman's father Jon Huntsman Sr. was a fiance co-chairman for Romney even though Huntsman Jr. was backing the GOP's eventual nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain.
Huntsman Jr.'s brother, David, attended Romney's January 2007 call center event in Boston, armed with his father's extensive list of contacts. Huntsman Sr. said at the time, the family had contributed some $250,000 to various political action committees organized on behalf of Romney.
Later Monday, Huntsman Jr.'s "campaign in waiting" announced support from a key political figure in South Carolina, Mike Campbell. Campbell was the South Carolina chairman of Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign and is the son of a popular former governor there.
Campbell called Huntsman Jr. "the type of problem- solver our country needs. He's a proven conservative who cut taxes, grew jobs, passed free-market health care reform and signed strong pro-life legislation."