Utah officials disappointed that Romney is sitting out 2016

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks in Augusta, Ga., in this Oct. 29, 2014, file photo.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Mitt Romney's announcement Friday that he will not seek the presidency in 2016 has led to disappointment for many in his adopted state of Utah.

"Bummer. Mitt Romney would have been one of the best presidents in the history of the United States," U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, said while speaking at the University of Utah on Friday.

Kirk Jowers, a close friend of Romney's and director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Friday morning that Romney had a brief flirtation with a third run because he thought he had the best chance of winning the White House, a belief based on favorable polling.

But after more discussion with his inner circle and family, Romney was able to confirm that his initial decision not to run was the correct one.

"His number one goal was that a Republican needs to win in 2016. Number two was to make sure what his role was in that," Jowers said. "Once he felt comfortable some other Republican could win, he was comfortable."

James Evans, the Utah GOP chair, said he is disappointed, but Romney is doing what the former Massachusetts governor believes will give Republicans the best chance of winning the White House.

"I happen to think that he's the best possibility," said Evans, who led a Utah-based "Draft Mitt" campaign to encourage Romney to run again.

Evans is still holding out hope that Romney could change his mind again and run after all.

"I still think there could be a possibility for him to run if none of the other candidates catch fire," Romney said. "Maybe everyone will come to Mitt Romney later this year and say, 'We need you to do this.' "

The news in recent weeks that Romney was weighing another campaign was cheered in Utah. Romney, the most-high profile Mormon in America, is hugely popular in the state, where more than 60 percent of the residents are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Beyond his religious connections, Romney is remembered by many for turning around Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics after a bribery scandal.

Gov. Gary Herbert on Friday cited Romney's work at the Olympics as an example of why he would have been a great president.

"I certainly respect his decision, and I am sure he will continue to be an influential conservative voice on important issues," Herbert said in a statement Friday. "I believe the Republican Party has a very strong field of potential candidates -- particularly among the governors -- and I like our chances to take back the White House in 2016."

Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes said he's disappointed Romney won't be able to go on an " 'I told you so' tour."

Chaffetz, speaking to University of Utah students on Friday, recalled that Romney once told him he spent 363 out of 365 days on the road during his last run for president.

"It is hard to run for the President," Chaffetz said. "The shots you take on you and your family, you cannot even begin to understand the type of toll it has."

Romney had seemed comfortable last year in a new role as an elder statesman of the GOP, Jowers said, and his move last year to make his full-time home in a Utah wouldn't offer the same political advantages. The state is relatively small and does not play an early or decisive role in nominating contests.

"I was really hoping he'd make one last run. I think he'd made a great president," Jowers said. "But for his family, and perhaps for the party to finally come together over someone, it makes a lot of sense."