Romney announces 2012 bid, says Obama has 'failed America'
Politics • Former head of SLC Olympics is sure to look to Utah again for support.
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Three years ago, Utahn Fred Hale forked out $200 to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign because he thought the former Olympics chief was the best White House contender.

And he still thinks so.

"He's an intelligent person," Hale, a retired contractor from Grantsville, said this week. "I'll take it one step further — he's LDS."

As Romney mounts his second presidential bid, the former Massachusetts governor is likely to see huge support — again — from Utah, a Mormon-dominated state that likes to claim him as an adopted son.

In the 2008 campaign, Romney drew nearly $5.5 million in donations from the state and garnered 90 percent of the vote in the Utah Republican presidential primary. In a state where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims more than 60 percent of residents as adherents, Romney's Mormon roots count.

And, as he formally kicked off his campaign Thursday with withering criticism of President Barack Obama, his fans are sticking with him.

Romney, who used the success of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City as a springboard to the governor's office in Massachusetts, stood Thursday in a wind-whipped farm in New Hampshire and rattled off a list of failures he sees from Obama.

"In the third year of his four-year term, we have more than slogans and promises to judge him on," Romney said. "Barack Obama has failed America."

Throwing out a high national unemployment rate, a foreclosure crisis and burgeoning federal debt, Romney said it's up to the people to find a new leader.

"Mr. President, you've had your chance," Romney added.

Citing his business background leading the investment firm Bain Capital, Romney cast himself as the right one to lead the country out of an economic mess.

"The American ideals of freedom and opportunity need a clear, unapologetic defense, and I intend to make it because I have lived it," Romney said.

"Today we're united not only by our faith and belief in America, we're united by our concern for America. The country we love is in peril."

Romney, who has a lake-front home in New Hampshire, which holds the nation's first presidential primary, looked more relaxed than he did in 2007 when he announced his first bid for the White House. The perfectly dimpled tie was gone, the suit coat cast aside, and his hair moved in the breeze. But Romney's discussion of his accomplishments as governor — balancing the budget without raising taxes — still drove his presidential pitch.

Romney briefly mentioned his work in taking the helm of Salt Lake City's Olympic Games during his announcement, and his efforts are still fondly remembered in the state.

"He turned that around in short order," says Jeremiah Riley, who manages the Utah operations of Kachemak Research Development and backed Romney in his 2008 bid. "He has a consistent track record of turning things around, and I think that's what we need right now more than anything, is someone who can put us back on a good course."

Romney is the closest thing to a frontrunner in a GOP field that includes former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, businessman Herman Cain, former Sen. Rick Santorum and Rep. Ron Paul. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who shares an ancestor with Romney, as well as his faith, is also considering a White House run.

While Romney enjoys high national name recognition, voters split on whether they would support him for president, according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.

About 82 percent of voters polled knew of Romney and 51 percent said they could back him, while 44 percent had already ruled him out, the survey showed.

Only two other potential Republican contenders — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich — had higher recognition among voters, but both also saw a higher amount of people who wouldn't support them.

Overall, voters seem less than enthused about the field of announced and potential Obama challengers. The No. 1 one-word description of the GOP field was "unimpressed," according to a survey by the Pew Research Center and Washington Post.

tburr@sltrib.com