PROVO, Utah — On Election Day, there was already a President Romney in office: on the campus of Brigham Young University. David Romney is president of BYU’s Political Affairs Society and second cousin, once removed, of Mitt Romney. “My dad and Mitt have a mutual great-great-grandfather,” he said while organizing a watch party for what he hoped would be a historic evening.
He wasn’t alone within the BYU student body, or for that matter among fellow followers of the GOP presidential nominee’s faith. Mitt Romney stood on the brink of becoming the religion’s most prominent believer — and, here in Provo, the Mormon university’s most famous alumnus.
In the hours leading up to the decision, David Romney, 24, wore an orange shirt that read “I Lean Right & So Do They,” above images of Mitt Romney and the late Mormon conservative Ezra Taft Benson. He said he was busy getting ready for election festivities.
“We’re trying to have some kind of fun partisan activities,” Romney said of his party-planning. He emphasized that BYU was not monolithically Republican and that every time a swing state fell, supporters of the losing candidate “would have to do something semi-humiliating.” The side that failed to win Iowa would have to eat cobs of corn. When Virginia was called, the losers would have to wear “Virginia is for Lovers” lipstick; after Nevada, a boa; for Colorado, a backpack stuffed with rocks. As for Ohio, Romney said, “we had a hard time thinking of something.”
Romney, who supports Romney, hoped the gags would introduce an air of levity, because he expected things to get heated. “A lot of people care,” he said. “A lot.”
Across from BYU’s Tanner Building, home of the George W. Romney Institute of Public Management, Michael Roberts exuded the spirit. He wore a red T-shirt and passed out fliers promoting his Mitt Romney rap. (“Where my Republicans at!?” it asked.)
“I’m a big fan of Romney,” said Roberts, who had voted in absentia for the candidate in his home state of California. In his self-produced hip-hop video, which he said had been well received by fellow students, he raps in a Mitt Romney mask and blue blazer. He performed a sample: “Gimme a ticket to rhyme this inauguration/I’m so over this Obamanation.” He said he “didn’t want to slam” the president.
On the campus quad, David Pace sported a hand-painted “Mitt is It” white T-shirt. He held a Romney/Ryan placard in his left hand and a miniature Romney doll with an oversize head in his right. “I’ve got my Mini Mitt!” said Pace, 23. “It is just awesome to have the Church represented. We’re proud. It’s exciting for me to see the Church get a fair shot.”
At the student union, Christa Ballen and Nate Fletcher flipped through a copy of the Universe, the school’s newspaper. It featured a full-page spread with the headline “Mitt Romney’s Mission Years,” about young Romney’s time in France before he walked under the same statues and mountain ranges on the BYU campus. Ballen, 19, who had cast an absentee ballot for Romney in her home state of Minnesota, said that Romney’s support at the school was solid. “At BYU, he’s definitely going to win,” she said.
“It’s kind of cool to have a connection to someone who is running,” Kayla Rasmussen, 21, said as she returned home in her green nursing-school scrubs. She lived in the same modest brick apartment building Romney did as an undergraduate, newlywed and first-time father.
A Romney supporter, she said she admired that the Romneys resided in the basement apartment, long popular with young married couples trying to save money. “They started from scratch, like we all do,” she said.
Around 8 p.m., after the networks had called Pennsylvania for Obama, the theater began to fill up. Sarcastic shouts of “Wahoo!” went up when CNN, projected on a large screen above the stage, called Utah for Romney. “Six electoral votes!” somebody yelled. David Romney and his club colleagues stacked boxes of pizza on the stage.
But then New Hampshire fell into Obama’s column, and it became clearer that Romney’s avenue to the White House had narrowed.
A club official in an Uncle Sam hat told the crowd the election promised to be one of the closest in history. The screen behind him showed images of Obama supporters already jubilant in New York’s Times Square.
After a blessing over the pizza, popcorn and cookies to “enjoy this evening no matter what the results are,” cheers went up for Democrats, followed by louder ones for Republicans. A raucous and lighthearted mood took hold. Boos drowned out the applause when CNN projected Obama as the winner in Minnesota. California’s 55 electoral votes went for Obama. Soon a Republican student was adorned with a cheese hat signalling Obama had taken Wisconsin. Then at 9:19 p.m. MT, CNN projected Obama’s reelection. For the Mormon church, history would have to wait.
“I still feel good about voting for Romney,” said David Romney, standing in the wings of the stage. He was thrilled with his own turnout in the standing-room-only theater, which he attributed to campus solidarity, regardless of political persuasion, with the Mormon candidate. “People are just excited it was possible, just the fact there could be a Mormon president,” he said. “It was a big milestone for the faith.”