Wally Harkness is something of a walking billboard for Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential hopeful. Whenever he is on the road – which, as a sales manager for a Utah energy company, is often – he puts on his Romney T-shirt and spreads the Romney word.
“Wherever I am – Oklahoma, Texas, Arizona – I wear my Romney T-shirt,” says Mr Harkness, a 48-year-old father of five from Orem, just south of Salt Lake City.
“I’m not the least bit shy about walking around in my shirt and answering questions. Just the other day in Denver airport, I was talking to some students and got their minds thinking about the election.”
While at home in Utah, Mr Harkness spends evenings and Saturday mornings at Mr Romney’s state headquarters in a deserted shopping complex in Orem, making calls into battleground states as far afield as Michigan and Iowa.
Mr Harkness’ enthusiasm is not unusual in Utah, where Mr Romney enjoys a 90 per cent approval rating. Though the state is solidly Republican, part of the special zeal or Mr Romney here is due to the fact that he shares a religion – Mormonism – with as many as 70 per cent of the state’s residents.
The Romney campaign is planning to harness this energy by deploying an army of Utah supporters, like Mr Harkness, to states where the presidential race is close, such as neighbouring Nevada and Colorado. Such efforts could be crucial in battleground states that will decide the election.
Next week, the state’s Republican National Committee will send its first busloads of members – as many as 180 – to the Romney campaign “victory centre” in Mesquite, Nevada, to talk about their ground-game for winning the state.
In addition to hitting the neighbouring states, the Romney campaign and the RNC are also planning to use the energised Utahns to put “boots on the ground” further afield in places such as California and Idaho too.
“This is going to be so exciting,” says Thomas Wright, the ebullient chairman of the state’s Republican National Committee. “We are going to be able to take all these Utahns, who are so passionate about Mitt Romney, to the battleground states to our west and to our east.”
Much has been made of Barack Obama’s extensive grassroots network that helped propel him to the presidency in 2008, either by donating small sums online or getting out to spread his message of hope and change. But Mr Romney’s Mormon army could act as a counterweight to the president’s ground game in close races.
The missionary work that is at the heart of the Mormon religion – 1m have left home for two years to convert others to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints – could be good preparation for a Romney door-knocking and phone-calling outreach effort, given the long hours and rejection that such endeavours often entail.
(...) In Mr Romney’s Orem campaign headquarters, rows of computers and telephones sit in grey cubicles ready for volunteers like Mr Harkness. Above each is a picture of Mr Romney working the phones, with the caption “calls = votes”.