* Romney's great-grandfather moved to Mexico in 1880s
* Romney had strong support in Mormon community
* His stance on immigration stance seen as too tough
(Recasts with Romney's defeat)
COLONIA JUAREZ, Mexico, Nov 6 (Reuters) - In a verdant oasis
in the deserts of northern Mexico, Republican challenger Mitt
Romney's Mormon cousins mourned his presidential election defeat
on Tuesday as a lost opportunity to pull the U.S. economy out of
Romney's relatives in Mexico, whom he has never visited, had
high hopes their clan's most famous son would win the keys to
the White House, create jobs and boost trade.
When the former private-equity executive and Massachusetts
governor conceded defeat to President Barack Obama early on
Wednesday, his Mexican brethren reacted with a mixture of dismay
and stoic resignation, hailing his candidacy as a step forward
for promoting understanding of the Mormon community.
"I'm just feeling very, very sad," said Virginia Romney, who
was born on the same day as Romney in 1947, and is married to
his Mexican second cousin Kent.
"Just to let him slip away from being president of the
United States is a real tragedy for the U.S. because he could
have given the country so much," the 65-year-old added. "He has
been such a success in everything he has done."
The family's Mexican roots go back to Mitt Romney's
great-grandfather Miles P. Romney, who crossed south of the
border in the 1880s, like other early Mormon settlers in Mexico
fleeing U.S. marshals who were seeking to arrest him for
His descendants still live in Mormon enclaves in the state
of Chihuahua about 200 miles (320 km) from the U.S. border and
near where Mitt's father, George Romney, was born. There are
about 300 Mormons left in the area, and dozens called Romney.
Today, Colonia Juarez is a pocket of green fields, manicured
lawns, well-pruned trees and American-style suburban life hemmed
in by mile upon mile of desert waste and scrubland.
Driving down a hill into leafy, ordered surroundings, a gold
statue glimmers atop a white Mormon temple. In the cemetery, the
modest graves of Romneys have simple stone plaques, while
flowers and crosses adorn elaborate Mexican tombs.
Leighton Romney, another of Mitt's Romney's second cousins
in Chihuahua, said the Republican's hopes had been buried
because his party had failed to connect with voters on issues
like immigration and foreign policy.
"As poorly as the economy is doing and as bad a record as
Obama has, in some way the Republicans weren't able to take
advantage of it," said the 53-year-old businessman. "Mitt ran a
good campaign. And he did a lot for his party."
"He also did a lot for his religion. He brought it to the
forefront and hopefully people will be more informed about the
Latter Day Saints church now," added Leighton, who was local
organizer for the successful presidential election bid in July
by Mexico's incoming leader, Enrique Pena Nieto.
Many of Romney's Mexican relatives have built successful
careers as farmers selling fruit and other produce to the United
States, and they were adamant the multi-millionaire Republican
was the best man to turn around the struggling U.S. economy.
His defeat was a loss to the United States, they said.
"In my opinion Barack Obama is not doing the job," said
Michael Romney, 64, vice principal of the school in Colonia
Juarez and Romney's second cousin. "I have three boys and a
daughter in the United States, and their lives are drastically
different after these past four years."
Despite rallying behind the Republican nominee in the
election, the Mexican Romneys were critical of the Republican
line on immigration issues in the United States, arguing that
many Mexicans crossing the border illegally were just acting out
of economic necessity.
Republicans generally back strict controls against illegal
immigration and Romney took a hard line to win his party's
nomination. As candidate, he sought to woo Hispanic voters by
pointing out that his father was Mexican-born, but otherwise
said little about that part of his family history.
George Romney was just 5 years old when the family left the
area in 1912, driven out with others under threat from Pancho
Villa's rebel troops during the Mexican Revolution.
Some went back when things died down, but George Romney's
parents settled in the United States. He became a successful car
executive and Michigan governor, and made his own presidential
bid, failing to win the Republican nomination in 1968.
Mitt Romney's relatives had hoped he would bring to the
White House the pioneer spirit of his forebears, Mormons who
lived in dirt dug-outs and overturned wagons, irrigated a vast
desert to raise herds of cattle and cultivated peach and apple
Two of his siblings visited Colonia Juarez several years ago
to see a small wooden train station said to have been built by
his great-grandfather, as well as other Romney landmarks.
The candidate's Mexican connections drew considerable media
interest in the campaign, and some are looking forward to the
spotlight moving away from the quiet little Mormon settlement
"Thankfully, our 15 minutes of fame are now over," said
Leighton Romney. "Now we can get back to our lives and Obama can
realize he has a huge debt to take care of."
(Writing by Dave Graham and Simon Gardner; Editing by Kieran
Murray and Peter Cooney)