SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) – Mitt Romney took a break from campaigning on Saturday to attend the funeral of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church.
The campaign stressed that this was a personal trip, and that Romney would not be actively campaigning while in Utah. He did, however, spend part of the morning doing satellite interviews with TV stations in several Super Tuesday states.
Romney was joined at the funeral by wife Ann and two of their five sons, Josh and Matt. Seated around Romney near Hinckley’s casket were fellow Mormon dignitaries Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, and Republican Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett of Utah and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. A message from President and Laura Bush was read, but neither Romney nor the other politicians had a role in the service.
When asked Friday why it was important for him to leave the campaign trail to attend Hinckley’s funeral, Romney responded, “He’s a man I respect a great deal, and I want to pay my respects to his family and acknowledge the importance of his life in my own life.”
Romney speaks fondly of two occasions when he met with Hinckley. The first came while Romney was running the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, when he asked Hinckley for a financial contribution from the Church as well as use of Church property, both of which he got.
He also went to see Hinckley when he was thinking about running for president. “With a twinkle in his eye,” Romney tells the story, “he said, ‘if you decide to run and you win it will be a great experience, if you run and lose it’ll also be a great experience.’”
Though he didn’t campaign in Utah on Friday or Saturday, Romney seems all but guaranteed a victory in the state’s GOP primary on Tuesday.
Throughout Romney’s campaign, his Mormon faith has been a source of many questions. He delivered a major speech in early December in which he sought to dispel some of the mystery surrounding the religion.