Mitt Romney is praised by neighbors at his caucus; Democrat Jenny Wilson campaigns more against him than against her in-party opponents

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Democratic Salt Lake County Council member Jenny Wilson arrives before the House District 24 Democratic Caucus at Ensign Elementary on Wednesday, March 21, 2018.

Mitt Romney once campaigned across America to win the GOP presidential nomination. His neighbor Kym Frey aimed at a smaller target Tuesday, asking their local Holladay precinct to elect her as a state Republican delegate for Romney.

She won when the precinct’s other candidate didn’t specifically mention in her speech that she would support the former Massachusetts governor.

Her victory cheered Romney not only because he won his first convention vote in the U.S. Senate race for the GOP nomination — but because he spent the past few days pushing for more women to become delegates.

Frey echoed Romney when she told 31 neighbors in a Cottonwood High School classroom, “Less than 20 percent of delegates are women, but more than 50 [percent] of voters are women.” She said it was time for a change, “and I support Mitt.”

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mitt and Ann Romney share a laugh with caucus workers. The Romneys attended their local caucus meeting with other members of the Holladay Precinct 23. A combined 35 caucuses held opening ceremonies together at Cottonwood High School Tuesday, March 20, 2018.

It was an interesting moment among the hundreds of party caucuses around the state Tuesday. What happened with Romney and his top Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, exemplified the politics of the beginning of the process to elect candidates.

Wilson started the evening across the valley, at her precinct at Ensign Elementary in Salt Lake City’s Avenues neighborhood before she ran to campaign at other meetings in Weber County.

“This is kind of a big moment in the process,” she said, adding that those at caucuses are “weighing in on what they care about in their neighborhoods, and they’re letting their voice be heard at the most local level.”

Though she is campaigning against three other Democrats in the race, she focused mostly on Romney.

Among the messages she was spreading: “We’ve seen typically an old boys’ club for a long time in the Senate, and we need to change that.”

She said she has worked with Romney and likes him. “But I think it’s really important that we have somebody serving our state, Utah, in the U.S. Senate who’s actually from here. ... There’s a lot that I don’t think he understands about the complexity of the state that you really get having lived, served, been a part of the process.”

In Wilson’s precinct, Ema Ostarcevic, whose family emigrated from Croatia when she was a child, said she was running to become a delegate because she learned “that freedom and democracy isn’t something we take lightly, obviously coming from a country where we didn’t have that luxury.”

Meanwhile, back at Cottonwood High school, a combined 35 caucuses held opening ceremonies in a largely empty auditorium. Attendees applauded lightly as some local candidates spoke. Then, Romney was introduced.

He received a rock star’s wild cheers and applause.

Romney didn’t speak, but he waved as he sat quietly in front of his local Holladay Precinct 23, his neighbors solidly behind him.

Romney “is popular with his neighbors,” said his neighbor and son Josh Romney. “They’ve gotten to know him well, and they like him. His father’s family, of course, likes him, too. “This is the time of year we can extort him a little bit” for votes.

Steven Peterson, a former Holladay councilman from the same precinct, said he always attends caucuses, but this time he was there “to help Mitt get in. I told him the other day that I wished we could fill Congress with people like him — in both parties. ... I love what he stands for.”

Frank Longson also said he was there to push for Romney.

“I was a [Mormon] missionary in France long before he was. But we speak French together,” he said. He wife, Dorreta, added: “We love his family.”

At the Cottonwood High GOP caucuses, attendees saw a five-minute video from the Keep My Voice ballot initiative that seeks to revoke Utah’s 2014 election law that allows qualifying for a primary through the caucus-convention system and/or by collecting signatures.

It was also seeking signatures — but few seemed to sign. Doing much more brisk business was a booth where Romney was collecting signatures. “I’m both a suspenders and belt kind of guy,” he said, referencing his two paths to the ballot.

Democrats across the valley held out hope that, with voters divided by President Donald Trump, candidates like Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams would be boosted in his likely close race to unseat Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah.

“I’m hoping for it,” said Dale Christensen, who was among the Taylorsville Democrats at Kennedy Junior High School in West Valley City on Tuesday. “We really have hope for these 18-year-olds that are walking out of schools. I’m seeing them energized.”

McAdams briefly spoke to attendees there and in West Jordan, two decidedly conservative strongholds in a Republican-leaning congressional district. Tracee Greco, who volunteered to be a delegate, said McAdams’ moderate views represented hers.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ben McAdams attends the Democratic Party neighborhood caucus meeting for District 39 at Kennedy Junior High School in West Valley City Tuesday March 20, 2018. McAdams is a candidate for Utah's 4th Congressional District.

“There’s not a part of this district that we’re not going to be focused on,” McAdams said. He later caught the end of the caucus meeting near his home in Sugar House.

Love did not attend GOP caucuses. She remained in Washington while Congress was in session and taking votes.