06.29.09

The New Romney Dynasty

As talk of another presidential run for Mitt Romney heats up, his son Josh is looking to jump into Utah politics. A new dynasty may be in the making.

Forget about Romney 2012. Let’s talk Romney 2028.

Out in Utah, Mitt Romney’s son Josh, a 33-year-old real-estate developer, seems to be attracting a whole lot of interest. Barack Obama’s decision to draft Gov. Jon Huntsman as his ambassador to China has opened up some space at the top of the Utah state Republican Party, and, with Lieutenant Governor Gary Herbert preparing to move into the big office, Romney Jr. may be selected to fill Herbert’s position. An even more likely scenario involves Romney Jr. campaigning as lieutenant governor with Herbert’s main rival in the special election set for 2010.

“He’s a bright guy, impressive in his own right,” Rolly said. “And then he’s got the name.”

It’s not the first time Josh Romney’s name has come up in Utah politics. Back in February, he stirred interest by saying he might challenge Rep. Jim Matheson, Utah’s only Democratic congressman, for his seat representing the 2nd District.

“I’m pretty young,” Romney Jr. said at the time, “but I’ve had good experience on the campaign trail.”

He cut his political teeth stumping for his father’s failed 2008 presidential run. At the wheel of a Winnebago, dubbed the “Mitt Mobile,” Romney fils visited all 99 counties in Iowa. The Romney brothers shone particularly brightly during the campaign, their 500-watt smiles and too-perfect families providing a stark contrast to Rudy Giuliani’s troubled brood. Their group blog on the Romney campaign Web site dripped with the family’s gee-whiz charm.

Josh Romney decided not to run against Matheson, but he’s been more vocal in expressing his interest in the lieutenant governorship. “I’ve learned a lot. This is a position I could handle,” he said of the job on June 1.

And even if Herbert doesn’t pick him for the post, Romney Jr. could find himself on the ticket of Kirk Jowers, the director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, a year from November. Jowers’ law firm represented Mitt Romney in the 2008 campaign, and the election-law expert may want the younger Romney at his side next year. The two are already appearing together, recently joining Rep. Jason Chavetz for an ice-cream social. Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly writes, “GOP sources are buzzing” about the plan to put Jowers and Romney Jr. together in 2010.

Should Romney Jr. appear on a ticket, his name will go a long way: His father sowed tremendous goodwill in the state by lifting the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake City out of debt and avoiding international embarrassment. Last year, Romney Sr. won nearly 90 percent of the vote in the Republican primary—a number unrivaled by any candidate in either party during the competitive part of the election season. And as members of the Church of Latter-day Saints, the Romneys have particular appeal in Utah. “The Romney name is very magical,” Rolly said in an interview with The Daily Beast.

The Romney name may also provide political cover for either Herbert or Jowers, each of whom will face criticism from the conservative wing: Herbert will need to come out from the shadow of Huntsman, who took moderate positions on the environment and civil unions, while Jowers has been critical of the Republican-orchestrated redistricting of Utah in 2001.

“In the Utah Republican Party,” Rolly said, “moderate is actually a dirty word.”

Romney Jr.’s done nothing so far to suggest that he’s anything but a true-blue conservative. Of course, critics might point out that he's done nothing at all in state politics. That’s the thing about a name, though. Mitt benefited from being a son of George Romney, the governor of Michigan and 1968 presidential candidate. And Josh Romney fits the family mold: Boston prep school beginnings, BYU undergraduate training, finished off with the requisite Harvard MBA polish. Add successful businessman, and you’ve got yourself a Romney. Romney Jr.’s flirtation with politics hints at the arrival of a third generation of Romney politicos, which would land the family in the first league of American political dynasties.

“He’s a bright guy, impressive in his own right,” Rolly said. “And then he’s got the name.”

Samuel P. Jacobs is an intern at the Daily Beast. He has written for The Boston Globe, The New York Observer, and The New Republic Online.