WASHINGTON - Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Tea Party favorite who is likely to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012, will endorse Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, on Wednesday.
Chaffetz is backing Romney over former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, despite the fact that Chaffetz worked for Huntsman for two years, eventually serving as his chief of staff. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Chaffetz said his assessment that Romney has the best shot of defeating President Obama in the general election had led to his decision.
"I like them both, but I want to beat Barack Obama and I think Mitt Romney's in the best position to do that. I think he's the right person at the right time," Chaffetz said. "It's tough for a lot of Utahns because we're having to choose among friends."
But, he added, "the task of unseating an incumbent president is monumental."
"It's going to take a massive organization and a huge amount of fundraising. And Mitt Romney is uniquely positioned to do that, with the organization he has built over the course of years," Chaffetz said. "He will still probably get outspent. But if the economy is your greatest concern, there is nobody better than Mitt Romney. I'm convinced of that. He has been there, done that. He offers the real life, firsthand experience, unlike most every other person."
The endorsement is a big win for Romney, because Chaffetz is popular among the conservative grassroots. But Chaffetz will undoubtedly face some backlash from Tea Party supporters who dislike the universal health care law that Romney implemented in Massachusetts.
Pressed on that issue, Chaffetz borrowed a line from Romney's playbook. He agreed that there is a difference between a state government mandating that people buy health insurance and the federal government doing the same.
"I do think the bigger argument is who does it, and I think what's right for Massachusetts may not be right for Florida or for Utah," Chaffetz said. "But I think Mitt Romney understands that as well as anybody. The fact that it was done at the state level as opposed to the federal is a major part of that thought process. I think that's right. I think he understands it and has experience having learned from what's worked and learned what hasn't worked."