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About Utah: Romney aims for $100M ‘entry fee’

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Mitt Romney is coming to town, and you know what that means.

Get out your pocketbooks.

The U.S. presidency doesn't come cheaply these days. Federal Election Commission chairman Michael Toner told the New York Daily News recently that serious candidates for 2008 need to raise at least $100 million by year's end.

"Call it a $100 million entry fee," Toner said.

The two candidates who make it to Election Day 2008 will spend $500 million, Toner predicted. Each. That's 40 percent more than the $350 million George W. Bush spent in 2004 and almost five times the $108 million Bill Clinton spent in 1996.

And you thought your property tax increases were outrageous.

Serious presidential campaigning is open only to people who can raise lots of money, which seems to include Romney. Even before his one-day phone-a-millionaire telethon raised $6.5 million last Jan. 8 in Boston, the Wall Street Journal reported his campaign had several million in the bank.

His stop in Utah will begin tomorrow night at the Grand America Hotel, where guests will be invited to give early and give often. He will be in St. George on Wednesday.

No one expects the evening to be unproductive. As Chris Robinson of Park City, one of many Utahns drumming up Romney support, said, "My experience so far is that it's not difficult to raise money for him here."

Robinson noted that money raised now helps legitimize the campaign.

"The adage is money talks, but early money screams," he said.

Romney couldn't have picked a better month to come. February in Utah has been very good to him.

It was on Feb. 11, 1999, that he was hired to take over as head of the scandal-tarnished, deeply-in-debt Salt Lake Olympics.

And it was three years later, from Feb. 8-24, 2002, that those Olympics went over like a helium-filled balloon, resulting in worldwide praise, a $100 million profit, and, for Romney, a nudge toward the White House.

On Feb. 20, 2002, exactly five years ago tomorrow, Mitt's Games enjoyed a crescendo moment when Americans Jim Shea and Tristin Gale won gold medals in skeleton racing, Apolo Anton Ohno, the soul-patch of the Games, won gold in short-track speed skating and skier Janica Kostelic of Croatia claimed her record-setting third gold medal.

Romney loves to tell the story about Kostelic overcoming long odds of growing up in a war-torn country and sleeping in the family car before races to become the world's best women's skier.

Odds not unlike those he faces in the 2008 race. The latest Gallup/USA polls show Rudy Giuliani ahead among Republicans at 40 percent, followed by John McCain at 24 percent, Newt Gingrich at 9 percent and Romney at 5 percent. Hillary Clinton leads Democrats with 40 percent, followed by Barack Obama at 21 percent, Al Gore at 14 percent and John Edwards at 13 percent.

That's a lot of ground to make up. But with primary elections a year away, there's plenty of time.

Romney is still sleeping in the family car before races stage — and chipping away at that entry fee.

Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.