In a Surprise, Salt Lake City Paper Endorses Obama

In a potentially devastating blow to Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the Salt Lake Tribune—the largest paper in the heavily Mormon state of Utah, where Romney claims that he rescued the Olympics from disaster—yesterday endorsed President Obama, saying that it is deeply troubled by the many ways Romney has changed positions in recent years.

“From his embrace of the party’s radical right wing, to subsequent portrayals of himself as a moderate champion of the middle class, Romney has raised the most frequently asked question of the campaign: ‘Who is this guy, really, and what in the world does he truly believe?’ the paper wrote. “The evidence suggests no clear answer, or at least one that would survive Romney’s next speech or sound bite. Politicians routinely tailor their words to suit an audience. Romney, though, is shameless, lavishing vastly diverse audiences with words, any words, they would trade their votes to hear.”

While the Tribune endorsed Obama in 2008 and is generally considered a fairly liberal paper, it has also been full of praise for Romney since he successfully ran the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. With a headline that blared “Too Many Mitts,” the paper started the editorial by acknowledging how much of a surprise the endorsement was likely to be to many observers.

“Nowhere has Mitt Romney’s pursuit of the presidency been more warmly welcomed or closely followed than here in Utah,” the paper wrote. “The Republican nominee’s political and religious pedigrees, his adeptly bipartisan governorship of a Democratic state, and his head for business and the bottom line all inspire admiration and hope in our largely Mormon, Republican, business-friendly state. But it was Romney’s singular role in rescuing Utah’s organization of the 2002 Olympics from a cesspool of scandal, and his oversight of the most successful Winter Games on record, that make him the Beehive State’s favorite adopted son.”

But the paper said that this is not the Romney that the country has seen during this campaign, during which he has shifted positions far too many times to know where he stands on many issues.

While David Magleby of the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy at Brigham Young University, a school owned by the Mormon Church, said the paper’s endorsement “undermines part of Romney’s narrative,” it likely won’t affect his margin of victory in Utah, which Magleby predicted he will win with at least 70 percent of the vote.

“It is potentially damaging to Romney in that the paper always praised his skills in managing the Olympics,” Magleby says, “and is now criticizing how those same skills have evolved on the presidential stage.”

The Tribune attacked Romney for his “servile courtship of the tea party in order to win the nomination, and now as the party’s shape-shifting nominee.” The paper was also upset at his failure to provide specifics of his tax plan.

“More troubling, Romney has repeatedly refused to share specifics of his radical plan to simultaneously reduce the debt, get rid of Obamacare (or, as he now says, only part of it), make a voucher program of Medicare, slash taxes and spending, and thereby create millions of new jobs,” the editorial says. “To claim, as Romney does, that he would offset his tax and spending cuts (except for billions more for the military) by doing away with tax deductions and exemptions is utterly meaningless without identifying which and how many would get the ax.”

The Tribune pointed to his now infamous comments during a fundraiser, when he referred to 47 percent of Americans as freeloaders unwilling to pay taxes, as evidence of his willingness to say anything to get elected.

“Where, we ask, is the pragmatic, inclusive Romney, the Massachusetts governor who left the state with a model health care plan in place, the Romney who led Utah to Olympic glory? That Romney skedaddled and is nowhere to be found,” the editorial says.

The paper wasn’t exactly gushing in its support of Obama, saying that he has made some mistakes as he tried to pull the country out of the Great Recession—most notably pushing for Obamacare, which “sapped the new president’s political capital and destroyed any chance for bipartisan cooperation on the shredded economy.”

“Obama’s foreign policy record is perhaps his strongest suit, especially compared to Romney’s bellicose posture toward Russia and China and his inflammatory rhetoric regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program,” the editorial says. “Obama’s measured reliance on tough economic embargoes to bring Iran to heel, and his equally measured disengagement from the war in Afghanistan, are examples of a nuanced approach to international affairs. The glaring exception, still unfolding, was the administration’s failure to protect the lives of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans, and to quickly come clean about it.”

The Tribune says that it had hoped Romney would exhibit the qualities that he exhibited in Salt Lake City during the Olympics—”talent for organization, pragmatic problem solving and inspired leadership.”

“Instead, we have watched him morph into a friend of the far right, then tack toward the center with breathtaking aplomb. Through a pair of presidential debates, Romney’s domestic agenda remains bereft of detail and worthy of mistrust,” the editorial continues.

“Therefore, our endorsement must go to the incumbent, a competent leader who, against tough odds, has guided the country through catastrophe and set a course that, while rocky, is pointing toward a brighter day. The president has earned a second term. Romney, in whatever guise, does not deserve a first.”

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