SALT LAKE CITY -- The ways Utahns responded to the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, from the millions of dollars in sponsorship to the tens of thousands of volunteers, are seeds of hope in a time of great challenges for the United States, Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts said yesterday.
Speaking in Salt Lake City to a group of about 1,000 business and community leaders, Romney, the former organizing chief of the Salt Lake games, said the United States faces threats on numerous fronts, including terrorism, economic losses to Asia, a lagging education system, and a general threat to American values.
''I'm convinced that America needs heroes like we've never needed them before," Romney said.
It would be easy to be discouraged, Romney said, but for the experience he had over the three years of planning the 2002 Olympic Winter Games.
Utahns helped raise more than $100 million for Olympic sponsorship and turned out 40,000 strong to volunteer for jobs such as directing traffic and wiping snow off stadium seats for the games.
''That kind of spirit is what you see time and time again with the heroes of America," Romney said.
The appearance was Romney's second in Utah this year; he has also traveled to Missouri, Michigan, and South Carolina. The travels have raised speculation he is testing the waters for a possible presidential run in 2008. Romney's themes yesterday seemed more presidential than gubernatorial, although the first-term governor laughed at the suggestion he was stumping for a higher office and said concerns like education and economic development are ''states' issues."
Prior to his address, Romney and Governor Jon Huntsman Jr. of Utah met with community and business leaders to talk about some of the economic and education challenges in Utah that mirror those around the country. The meeting was closed to reporters, though Romney later revealed education was at the top of the discussion list.
''We can't afford to let our schools fall," he said.
Nearly 1,000 people attended Romney's later speech, all of them invited guests and customers of Zions Bank. All took home a copy of Romney's book, ''Turnaround: Crisis, Leadership, and the Olympic Games."
The 377-page book chronicles Romney's rescue of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee and the 2002 Olympic Winter Games from the brink of scandal and financial ruin.
Zions bought the books from Romney in lieu of paying him a speaker's fee.
About 70 people lined up after the speech to get Romney's signature inside the front cover of their complimentary copies.
''He's really liked by everyone, not just one certain group, or one party. He really connects with people," said Susan Lewis, 45, who works as a trainer for
''He saved it," she said of the Olympics.
''It's fun coming back to my second home and seeing so many Republicans and so many Olympians," Romney said after the speech. ''And by that I'm referring to our volunteers. We shared a memorable time."