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'Rock star' Mitt Romney gets big ovation in Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney brought his book tour Saturday back to the city where he led the 2002 Winter Olympics, telling an enthusiastic audience he could decide by Christmas whether to run again for president.

"That's not a decision we've made at this point," Romney told a 12-year-old boy from Bluffdale who said he was "asking a question that a lot of people are wondering and that's, 'Are you going to run for president?' "

The cheers the question received were among the loudest during Romney's hour-long appearance at the Salt Palace as part of his national tour for his latest book, "No Apology: The Case for American Greatness."

Romney said that, like the last time he made a bid for the GOP nomination for president, he and his family will gather to discuss the pros and cons of another campaign, possibly at Christmas or over New Year's.

He said his 2008 run for the White House was fun, especially because of the people who "give their heart and soul for you even when they know you're going to lose."

"There will be somebody who runs in the Republican Party," Romney told an estimated 4,000 people gathered in the Grand Ballroom. "I can tell you I'll either be that person, or I'll be working my tail off for that person, and I want you to, as well, because we've got to take back America."

The speech, a fundraiser for the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, was expected to raise $50,000 for scholarships, according to institute director Kirk Jowers.

Romney focused on the theme of his book, currently at the top of the New York Times Bestseller List. He said he chose the title because he was dismayed by President Barack Obama's apologies to other nations for past actions by the U.S. government.

"This is not a time to apologize for America," Romney said, calling on the audience to fight for the nation's values. "This is a time to be proud of America."

He warned that the country is in danger of being weakened by the Obama administration's efforts on health care, environmental programs and other issues, as well as the ever-growing national debt, now measured in the trillions of dollars.

Although much of Romney's hour-long speech was focused on serious topics, he did throw in a few jokes, including that U.S. skier Lindsey Vonn may lose her Olympic gold medal because Obama has "gone downhill faster."

Romney has always been popular with Utahns, many of whom share his Mormon faith and remember his success with the Olympics. Saturday was no exception.

Tracy Parker, a wedding hostess from Centerville, was already starting to read her pre-autographed copy of his book, included in the ticket price. Parker said the evening was a surprise 50th birthday present from her husband, Rich.

"I'm excited to read it. Oh my gosh, there are so many things I think about," she said, tapping the cover of the book. "I have no idea what we should be doing. But this man is so smart."

Some Utahns in the audience paid extra to spend time with Romney at a reception held before the speech that also was attended by fellow Republicans politicians, including Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch and Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Chaffetz joked about the large turnout for Romney. "He's a rock star. Jon Bon Jovi doesn't get this many people."

Larry Deans, who moved from Southern California to Hooper, Weber County, after losing his aerospace job, said Romney spoke at the reception about his time as head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and "how warm and wonderful the people of Utah are."

Deans said he wants to see Romney make another run for the White House to bring his business expertise to Washington, D.C. "I shook his hand and told him I wanted him to run again in 2012," Deans said.

Romney's wife, Ann, spoke to the crowd before his speech, reminding them of the years their family spent in Utah during the 2002 Winter Games.

"We had a life-changing experience by being here. It was such a wonderful blessing in our lives," Ann Romney said, noting they were just in Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

"Yes, those Games are nice, but there's nothing like Salt Lake," she said.

e-mail: lisa@desnews.com