SALT LAKE CITY — A national launch for the Utah-based effort to draft Mitt Romney into running a third time for president in 2016 has been called off amid concerns from insiders from the former GOP candidate's campaign that it could hurt other Republicans seeking office.
"Look, the focus needs to be on the midterm elections. That's what Mitt is doing," Romney's former national finance chairman, Spencer Zwick, told the Deseret News Thursday. "The organization has no merit. None."
Zwick described the "Draft Mitt" website set up by Utah State GOP Chairman James Evans as "absolutely" a distraction to Romney's push to elect Republicans around the country to the U.S. Senate, now under Democratic control.
"This organization has absolutely no bearing on Mitt Romney running for president. He says he's not running for president and nothing this organization can do will change that," said Zwick, so close to Romney that he's been called his "sixth son."
Evans, who has talked with Zwick and others he declined to name about the Draft Mitt movement, said he has decided not to go forward with the national launch planned later this month in South Carolina, an early presidential primary state.
"A national event with media and things like that could very well get in the way and that's not what we want to do," Evans said. "We have to be mindful and respectful of that and not get in the way of anything Gov. Romney is doing."
That also means not raising money on the website, Evans said, although a petition urging Romney to run that already has more than 114,600 signatures will remain online.
"I'm in complete agreement with them as far as any kind of fundraising," Evans said. "Any monies we receive are from people we have personal relationships with that understand anything we do is not in coordination with Mitt."
A new non-profit organization has been created to back the effort, called "Promote Your Cause," the party chairman said, noting it won't take "a whole lot of money to do what we're doing."
Evans said he believed supporters of another Romney run had taken "a proper approach" and were attracting the attention of people trying to protect what he termed the Romney brand because of their success so far.
Still, Evans acknowledged, "the concerns that have been raised, I can identify with because we have had people send emails saying they want to help on the Mitt campaign. We have to explain to them that we are not the Mitt campaign."
Zwick said even asking supporters to sign up online is a mistake.
"Mitt is not supporting this. None of us are asking people to do this," said Zwick, who founded Solamere Capital, a Boston-based private equity firm, with Romney's eldest son, Tagg.
Zwick said the Utah effort to lure Romney into the race is not unique.
"There are people all over the country trying to push him into running," Zwick said. "I've heard of 20 of these things....People should take him at his word, he's not running."
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said Romney insiders appear to just be looking out for him.
"The worry among Romney people would be that the draft movement would be seen as a ploy by Romney himself to remain in the news," Scala said. "It makes Romney look desperate for the spotlight, which they don't want for their man."
Especially at a time when Romney is stepping up as a party leader.
"Romney's had a good 2014," Scala said, noting the candidates he's endorsed are doing well. "He's done a good job of retaining influence within the party. I think at this point, that's what he's hoping to do."
Another political science professor from an early voting state in presidential races, Tim Hagle of the University of Iowa, also said the draft movement could distract from Romney's new agenda.
"Mitt Romney is right. It does sort of cloud things," Hagle said. "Where it would get cloudy is the focus would be off the endorsed candidates and more on Mitt Romney."
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said as long as the Draft Mitt effort isn't collecting contributions, it's not a problem.
"In it's current form as a wildly enthusiastic group for Mitt that is not soliciting money, I think there is no harm in it as an avenue for people to show their excitement and appreciation for Gov. Romney," Jowers said.
Brett Nielsen, a vice president of an online marketing company who is volunteering for the draft effort, said it remains to be seen how Romney is affected.
"Will this help or hurt Mitt Romney, I guess time will tell. We certainly are not interested in hurting him," Nielsen said. "Whether or not we're in this game or not, the American people are going to demand that Mitt Romney run again."
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