The Race Is On For 2016 Republicans To Land Romney’s Most Valuable Aide
Spencer Zwick was the architect of Romney’s groundbreaking 2012 fundraising operation. Now he’s on the market.
Brian Snyder / Reuters
Within 30 minutes after Mitt Romney concluded his Friday morning conference call informing donors and aides that he would forego a third presidential campaign, Spencer Zwick received phone calls on behalf of two different prospective 2016 candidates. A third shortly followed, and Zwick eventually had to put his cell phone on silent as he set off for Manhattan's Harvard Club, where Ann Romney's nonprofit was holding a luncheon.
The phone calls aren't likely to stop anytime soon.
The 35-year-old architect of Romney's groundbreaking fundraising operation is widely viewed as one of the most valuable operatives in the world of GOP political money. Not only is he the gatekeeper to the former nominee's sprawling network of donors — which contributed more than $1 billion in 2012 to the campaign and assorted pro-Mitt groups — but he is credited with developing an innovative strategy that amassed more cash than any other Republican candidate in history. Now he's on the market.
Zwick said in an interview Friday afternoon that his reputation in some GOP circles is “completely overstated,” but he confirmed, “I've heard from several of the likely candidates, both before Gov. Romney said he was thinking about running, and after. Of course, it's an honor to be asked.”
It's an open question whether Zwick — who runs a $700 million private equity firm in Boston alongside Romney's son, Tagg — will be willing to press pause on his finance career to join a campaign he's less passionate about. A devout Mitt loyalist and fellow Mormon, Zwick has worked for Romney since the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, when he was only 22 years old.
“He would be a huge force multiplier for any campaign, [but] Spencer's career in private equity has really taken off, so it will likely take a lot to get him back into the arena for a candidate not named Romney,” said Robert O'Brien, a California-based donor who was on Romney's 2012 foreign policy team.
A top Republican strategist with ties to a likely 2016 candidate said, “I'm sure every campaign would love to have him — I also assume he will play hard-to-get for a while.”
Asked about his future political plans, Zwick was cagey, saying he thought it was important for candidates to build their own teams from the ground up, rather than simply raiding the last guy's staff. But he also pledged allegiance to his party and said he wouldn't rule out joining another campaign.
“I care about the party, I care about the future of the country, and I care about making sure we have someone who can win,” Zwick said. “To the extent that I can be helpful, I will be.”
Zwick was heavily courted after the 2012 campaign ended, as ambitious Republicans eyeing 2016 filled his voicemail and trekked to his Newbury Street office. He met personally with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, and Sen. Rand Paul. He also took meetings with members of Sen. Marco Rubio's political team and spoke with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal over the phone.
But even as would-be candidates lined up to make their pitches and get his advice, Zwick was fixated on persuading his longtime hero and mentor to give it one last go. Now that the Romney 2016 dream is officially dead, Zwick is left to weigh his options and assess the field.
He said he hasn't made up his mind about who he might support, but when asked which candidates he found interesting, he named two: Rubio and Christie.
On Rubio: “I think Marco's got some real opportunity ahead.”
As for Christie, who many Romney fans have never forgiven for taking part in presidential photo ops during a hurricane the week before the election, Zwick offered absolution.
“He and I have had our differences over the years… but I think you have to look forward in politics; you can't keep looking back. When the endorsement mattered for Mitt Romney, he was there.”
He also had kind words for Kasich, who many in Republican circles believe Zwick is leaning toward.
“I don't know this, but I would imagine that [Kasich] would consider running,” Zwick said. “You've got to think that he's somebody who could pull the support together, plus he's from Ohio.”
Paul's libertarian leanings and antiestablishment political heritage would make him a more unconventional choice for a Romney Republican like Zwick — but he said that when he hosted the Kentucky senator at a meeting of donors in Boston last year, there was plenty of interest.
“He surprised a lot of people in the conference room,” Zwick recalled. “They didn't know much about him, but he left and everyone kind of sat around the table and thought, 'Huh, wow, he was impressive.'”
Zwick wasn't handing out trophies to everyone in the field, though. Asked about his meeting with Bush, he said flatly, “That was a long time ago.”
And he reserved his sharpest criticism for Jindal, who went on TV shortly after the 2012 campaign ended and bashed Romney more harshly than many other Republicans.
“Bobby Jindal, I don't think has a chance,” Zwick said. “I think it's more likely he builds a campaign to become a cabinet secretary for whoever wins the presidency.”
In the end, Zwick joked, he might just skip the cycle altogether.
“Maybe I should devote my time to getting the Olympics in Boston,” he said.
And, perhaps, getting Mitt Romney to run them?