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Chaffetz offers counterpoint at Democratic convention

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Charlotte, N.C. • The NASCAR Hall of Fame has 18 historic race cars and a variety of driving simulators for the kids. This week it has added a special exhibit — a team of Mitt Romney surrogates ready to counter the message at the Democratic National Convention at every opportunity.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has been a mainstay in the GOP "war room" that encompasses part of the racing museum just a few blocks from the convention hall. He’s spent the past four days in Charlotte making repeat appearances on the major cable news networks and giving a dozen interviews to radio, newspaper and local television reporters.

At a glance

Chaffetz as Romney surrogate

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, has served for months as one of Mitt Romney’s most active campaign surrogates, traveling the country and making dozens of on-air appearances, including at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

While Chaffetz, like all U.S. House members, faces voters in November, his challenge by Democratic Salt Lake City Councilman Soren Simonsen is seen as non-competitive. Utah’s 3rd Congressional District has been a Republican stronghold since it first was created in 1981 with the exception of the three terms (1991-1997) it was held by the late conservative Democratic Rep. Bill Orton.

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"In a 24-hour news cycle you’ve got to be there on the ground to respond in real time. Twenty minutes go by and you lose your opportunity to be part of that original story," Chaffetz said Wednesday after finishing his last press conference before heading back to Utah.

It’s become standard practice for the opposing party to try to crash each convention, a counter-offensive that has grown in importance with the proliferation of media, from social networks to partisan talk shows.

Chaffetz was one of a dozen Republicans who represented Romney in Charlotte, along with South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu. The Utahn probably spent the most time in front of a camera.

Late Tuesday, Chaffetz appeared on Fox News at 11:40 p.m. and he got up just five hours later to appear on a CNN panel, sounding a constant refrain that President Barack Obama has failed to create jobs and boost the economy.

On CNN, he got into a back-and-forth with Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, who argued Obama has overseen an economy that has created 4.5 million jobs, while Chaffetz countered the unemployment rate has been above 8 percent for more than 40 straight months.

The congressman also criticized the Democratic platform that has dropped any reference to God and no longer states that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. While Republicans say that shows Obama doesn’t back Israel, Democrats have told reporters that the platform was drafted to respect the negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The references to God and Jerusalem were later restored.

And on Wednesday, a chorus of Republican operatives criticized Democrats for moving Obama’s nomination address from a football stadium back to the smaller convention hall, disputing the explanation of a severe weather forecast and claiming he couldn’t fill the nearly 74,000 seats.

Chaffetz said that may be true, but he thought it was a meager story.

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"Some of it is political theater, other parts are pretty serious business," Chaffetz said.

He came to Charlotte almost immediately after the Republican National Convention ended in Tampa, Fla., and next week he returns to Washington, D.C., spending little time with his family during the House’s traditional August break.

"I’ve got to be able to look my wife and my kids in the eye and say I did everything I did to fire Barack Obama and hire Mitt Romney, and I think that is consistent with what Utah wants," he said, noting that his congressional district includes Brigham Young University, where Romney went to school.

Utah Democratic Chairman Jim Dabakis said it was a "pleasure" to have Chaffetz in town.

"It allows him to get back to his political roots with the Democratic Party," he said, noting Chaffetz’s father married into the Michael Dukakis family and that as a BYU student Chaffetz campaigned for the 1988 Democratic presidential nominee.

Dabakis said he expects Chaffetz will one day wake up and realize his current positions "while politically expedient, he knows deep down [they] are completely wrong."

mcanham@sltrib.comTwitter: @mattcanham

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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