Romney has several Utah power players in key spots
Politics • Several members of the presidential hopeful’s inner circle are Utahns, from a former governor to the candidate’s son.
Published: September 24, 2012 05:46PM
Updated: January 7, 2013 11:31PM
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Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.

Washington • Spencer Zwick and John Miller are there to make sure that Mitt Romney has enough money for his White House bid and Mike Leavitt is making sure he’s ready to move in.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz is turning out to be one of Romney’s top stand-ins and son Josh Romney is joining his brothers by fanning out across the country to boost their dad’s chances.

While Utah’s vote for Mitt Romney is the closest thing in politics to a sure bet, a cadre of Utahns is intimately involved in the effort to install a Romney administration. These insiders are Romney’s Utah power players.

“Governor Romney has pulled together a team of people who he knows and trusts and who he believes are qualified to carry out the job to help get him elected in November,” says Zwick, the national finance chairman of the Romney campaign.

While Utahns don’t dominate Romney’s Boston headquarters or make up a large share of his traveling entourage, they’re still in key spots as the campaign heads into the final weeks of a long slog.

Spencer Zwick • Zwick, a Salt Lake City native, was a Brigham Young University student when he volunteered in advance of the 2002 Winter Olympics to help translate documents and ended up as Romney’s special assistant, or body man, through the Games.

It was a big turning point for Zwick’s career as Romney later brought Zwick on board for his Massachusetts gubernatorial campaign and as Romney served as the state’s chief executive.

“We traveled together virtually every day,” Romney said of Zwick in his book, Turnaround.

Later, Zwick, the son of LDS Church general authority W. Craig Zwick, would take on the role of national finance director, at age 28, and raise millions of dollars for Romney’s first presidential bid.

“They couldn’t find anybody else,” Zwick joked in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune in 2007.

Zwick enjoys a similar spot in Romney’s current bid — national finance chairman — and has been heralded in his ability to raise funds, so far more than $123 million. And he was instrumental in organizing a big-donor gathering earlier this year in Park City, where all of Romney’s top money people descended for a weekend of policy discussions and campaign planning.

Along the way, Zwick has earned a fortune from his connections to Romney. So far, Romney’s campaign has paid Zwick’s firm $9.55 million in consulting fees, making it one of the top vendors to the effort. And the Romneys themselves invested $10 million in Zwick’s start-up venture capital firm, Solamere Capital. The Romneys’ eldest son, Tagg, is a managing partner at the firm, which has raised more than $200 million. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Solamere’s partners said they expected to make $16.8 million in consulting fees during the next six years.

The Romney campaign, though, is the big focus now, and Zwick detailed in a recent interview how intimately involved he has become in the bid. His main job, he says, is raising money for the official campaign as well as the joint victory fund and managing a team of some 70 staffers and consultants across the country.

As someone close to Romney, Zwick also helps direct where the money is spent and participates in strategy discussions and decisions.

His Utah roots help, he says.

“Having spent time working on the Olympic organizing committee in Salt Lake City, I saw that there are ways to build a strong team of committed volunteers and supporters,” Zwick said, noting he has tried to duplicate that with the campaign. “For the people of Salt Lake City, the 2002 Games became an important cause. Likewise, this campaign is turning from just a campaign to a cause.”

Joining that cause is a longtime Romney friend: John Miller.

John Miller • Scrawled on one of the choicest seats at the Republican National Convention was a reserved sign for one of two people: Ron Kaufman, a Massachusetts Republican bigwig and close Romney adviser, and John Miller, a Hyrum, Utah, native who has been a top fundraiser for Romney for years.

Miller, chief executive of multibillion-dollar meat production giant, National Beef Packing, is co-chairman of Romney’s national finance campaign and has donated $120,750 to Romney and affiliated Republican groups in the past two years.

It was a friendship born out of neighborly envy.

Miller and Romney owned vacation homes next to each other in the Deer Valley area, and one day, Miller recalls, Romney strolled over to Miller’s house to inquire whether the copper-lined edge on his home kept the ice from building up. They became fast friends.

Romney sold his Utah home in 2009 but by then had bought an ocean-side mansion in La Jolla, Calif., next door to the Millers.

A successful businessman, Miller — who is also involved in Zwick’s Solamare Capital — has used his ties to help raise cash for Romney. It’s unclear, though, how much Miller has collected since the Romney campaign has refused to release its list of top bundlers.

At a fundraiser this week in Salt Lake City, Miller introduced Romney to a crowd overflowing to the point that many didn’t get the lunch they paid for.

“I decided it was better to sacrifice a few lunches … to put Mitt Romney in the White House,” he said.

Miller then asked the crowd to “give the next president of the United States a rousing welcome home,” but Romney didn’t emerge. Two more times Miller dropped the line and on the third time, Romney came out to a warm embrace.

It was, however, less awkward than the time Romney seemingly forgot the name of one of his top surrogates, Rep. Jason Chaffetz.

Jason Chaffetz • In late May, Romney appeared with Donald Trump at a rally in Las Vegas and proceeded to thank everyone on stage with him, naming Trump, former rival Newt Gingrich, Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki.

“I gotta skip the guy in the center here because I’m not sure who that is,” Romney said of Chaffetz.

Romney later said he knew who Chaffetz was, called him a “good friend,” and the congressman said it was an inside joke.

In fact, Chaffetz is well-known within the Romney camp and is constantly called upon to serve as a stand-in for the candidate in swing states and on radio and television. In Charlotte, N.C., during the Democratic National Convention, Chaffetz paired up with Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus to counter the Democrats’ message.

“I happen to know the candidate and feel very comfortable articulating his position on the issues,” Chaffetz said when asked why he’s become a go-to surrogate. “Going out there to represent the governor on his array of issues, not everybody can do that.”

Chaffetz was one of the first members of Congress to jump on the Romney train — even bypassing the short-lived presidential campaign of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who helped elevate Chaffetz in Utah politics. And Romney has turned to the congressman as a good link to the tea-party wing of the GOP.

While Chaffetz is often found on television stumping for Romney, another well-known Utahn, Mike Leavitt, has been toiling in the background to prepare for a potential Romney presidency.

Mike Leavitt • Leavitt, who stepped down as Utah’s governor in 2003 to serve in President George W. Bush’s administration, was at Romney’s side in New Hampshire in January when Sen. John McCain made his endorsement official. Leavitt traveled with Romney during the primary.

So when Romney needed someone to head up what his campaign calls the Readiness Project, he picked Leavitt, who was known as a governor who delved into the details and sought to “think big” about problems facing the state.

“I do think they have developed a significant amount of trust in their time since the Olympics,” says Natalie Gochnour, a longtime Leavitt confidante. “They’ve built an enduring friendship.”

The former Utah governor got to know Romney when he came in to head the 2002 Winter Olympics. As governor, Leavitt had a public-relations crisis of immense proportions for a small state like Utah when the Games got tripped up in an international bribery scandal.

As Romney tells it, he met Leavitt in the Governor’s Mansion and laid out the not-so-rosy financial situation the Salt Lake City Olympics were facing.

“I have full confidence [in you], carry on,” Leavitt told him, according to Romney’s book.

For Leavitt, his new assignment means setting up plans for how to smoothly transition from the Obama administration to a Romney one, and what policies the new White House would engage in and who would be best suited to take them on.

It’s typical of presidential candidates to set up such plans before the election since there’s a relatively small window between winning and taking the oath of office, given the federal government’s size and complexity.

Gochnour, who served as Leavitt’s spokeswoman and worked at his firm, Leavitt Partners, says the former Utah governor is uniquely qualified for the task.

“He’s a policy-minded person,” she said, “who knows how to roll his sleeves up and do a deep dive.”

Josh Romney • Romney has two sons living in Utah, Ben and Josh, though Josh is the most politically active and has crisscrossed the country stumping for his dad through the primary race and now in the general election.

Recently, Josh Romney boarded the Romney Bus through the Pennsylvania towns of Rochester, Butler and Indiana in hopes of rallying voters to his dad’s side.

“I have a lot of fun going on the campaign trail and campaigning for my dad,” the 36-year-old said earlier this year. “It can be really rewarding. It can be tough at times. People sometimes can be very critical of your dad right to your face.”

Josh Romney has hinted before at a possible political run of his own and was considering running in Utah’s gubernatorial race two years ago as the running mate to Kirk Jowers, the head of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime friend of Mitt Romney. The bid never happened, but Josh Romney hasn’t ruled out putting his name on a future ballot.

Josh Romney also led the Romney family’s support for Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, whom Mitt Romney formally endorsed last week. Josh Romney is the chairman of Love’s campaign against Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson in the newly created 4th Congressional District.

Kirk Jowers • Back in 2005, when Mitt Romney was first hinting at a presidential run, Jowers, an election lawyer by training, played a critical role as general counsel to a network of state-based Commonwealth political action committees (PACs), which many saw as the precursor to Romney’s eventual 2008 bid.

Those PACs, which Jowers now heads, provided the funds for Romney to go into early primary states to build support for a possible bid, a key initial move in his six-year run for the White House.

While the PACs are dormant now, Jowers continues to raise funds for Romney and is on his national finance team. At the Republican National Convention, Jowers was seen sporting a fancy Romney pin, one he received for raising more than $250,000.

Jowers first got to know Romney when volunteering for his race against Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1994 and at the time became friends with Romney’s son Tagg. The two ended up hanging out frequently.

“They had a good weight room, and we played some tennis there,” Jowers recalls of the Romneys’ Belmont, Mass., home. “Mitt would come down and lift with us, or hit some tennis balls.”

Later on, Jowers would come on board to help with the Commonwealth PACs and has been one of his biggest boosters in Utah, rounding up endorsements and cash.

“It’s been kind of an amazing journey since ’94,” Jowers said, “to watch this young, vibrant, idealistic man.”

tburr@sltrib.com