The quiet war: Romney vs. Huntsman

A showdown between Huntsman, 50, and Romney, 63, would likely be the most bitter of the coming election. The respective former governors of Utah and Massachusetts have vast fortunes, silver tongues and great hair. They are also distant cousins, descended from a Mormon apostle who played a key role in the faith’s founding. The two men enjoyed the early support of powerful and devout fathers and performed the church’s missionary work – Romney in France during the Vietnam War and Huntsman in Taiwan. For years, the clans remained close, until the two scions sought to lead the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, a coveted post that promised to boost political prospects. The Games went to Romney, and the family bonds froze over when Huntsman endorsed Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) over Romney in the 2008 presidential contest.

“Our families have been interwoven for a long time,” Karen Huntsman, the 72-year-old mother of Peter and Jon and seven other Huntsmans, explained under a painting of pioneers in the lobby of the headquarters. The matriarch roomed with Romney’s sister Jane in the 1950s. Her brother Bruce once dated Romney’s sister Lynn. “I know Mitt. We backed Mitt and helped him. But I wouldn’t today. And I won’t get into that.”…

After Romney’s appointment, the Huntsman clan privately fumed that Jon Jr. had been used to make a closed search look more open.

In the Salt Lake Tribune that July, Jon Sr. referred to Romney as “politically driven” and “very, very slick and fast-talking.” When Romney hired a fellow Mormon as the organizing committee’s chief operating officer, Jon Sr. complained: “They claim they’re going out and really scouring the world to find the best person, so Mitt brings in one of his cronies to be the COO. Another broken promise. Because we’ve got three LDS folks who are all cronies. Cronyism at its peak. These are not the Mormon Games.”

In July 1999, Jon Sr., who carried the Olympic torch during its relay in 2002, supported Romney’s leadership and raised money for the Games. The Huntsman family today argues that the Olympic tension has been overblown.