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Kristin Nichols, Deseret Morning News
Spencer Zwick, 27, national finance director for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, plays with his son Peter, 2 months, at his in-laws' home in Salt Lake City last month.

Two days after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City ended, Mitt Romney's 22-year-old personal assistant was preparing to begin his professional career at an investment banking firm in New York City.

But Romney, who was about to make his own transition from Olympic leader to political candidate, had other plans for his right-hand man, Spencer Zwick, then a newlywed and a recent Brigham Young University graduate.

"He turned to me and said, 'I'm going to run for governor of Massachusetts. Would you come back and help work on my campaign?' I said, 'I've never worked in politics before. I don't know a thing about it.'

"I said, 'Sure,"' Zwick said during a Deseret Morning News interview.

Since then, Zwick has apparently learned plenty about politics.

Today, about to turn 28 years old, he is earning $25,000 a month as the national finance director for Romney's presidential campaign, responsible for Romney's achievement of raising more money than any other Republican candidate so far.

It's a long way from the volunteer translating he was doing at the Olympic organizing committee before he was unexpectedly tapped as Romney's chief aide, using languages he'd picked up as a child living overseas and, later, as an LDS missionary.

His father, Craig Zwick, now a member of the LDS Church's First Quorum of the Seventy, moved the family to Chile and then Brazil, where he served missions. Zwick, who graduated from East High School, was just 9 years old when the family first left their east bench home.

Zwick thought he'd only be in Boston through Romney's campaign for governor. But that led to a position on Romney's transition team, and then, to being named the governor's deputy chief of staff.

When Romney started looking seriously at a run for the White House, he turned to Zwick again, first to help run his political action committees, and now to raise money for a highly competitive presidential campaign that could end up costing close to $100 million.

Becoming a fund-raiser

Sitting in the back yard of his in-laws' Federal Heights home after returning from a rare day off spent at Lake Powell with his own parents, Zwick acknowledges he is young to be overseeing the network of high-powered corporate executives soliciting contributions for Romney.

Looking his age in shorts and a T-shirt worn with a weathered Boston Red Sox cap, Zwick said he was so anxious before Romney's first major fund-raising event back in January that he couldn't sleep.

"It was the most nerve-wracking day of my life," he said.

And no wonder. Romney is now one of three top-tier GOP candidates and is even considered the party's front-runner by some pundits. But at the beginning of the year, he hadn't even formally entered the race and had little name recognition nationwide.

Publicly, the campaign had announced that the Boston event, dubbed "National Call Day," was expected to attract 100 business and political leaders willing to solicit funds and raise $1 million. Privately, Zwick hoped for twice those totals.

He needn't have worried. At the end of the event, the campaign had raised $6.5 million with the help of more than 400 people, including more than a dozen from Utah such as Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert.

What Zwick recognized as a huge risk paid off, establishing Romney as a formidable opponent in the presidential race. The take that January day also shifted attention from Zwick's age to his skills as a fund-raiser.

John Miller, the CEO and an owner of National Beef Packing Co., is the highest-ranking Utahn among the campaign's nearly 60 national finance chairmen and co-chairmen. Miller said he initially had concerns about whether Zwick could handle the job, given his age.

But Zwick proved himself during a successful pitch to a potential donor Miller described only as "a very, very seasoned person" in his late 70s. Zwick "had his facts down," Miller said. "He knew about the political status of important people across the country (with connections to the donor) and what they'd done. I was just impressed."

LDS connections

It becomes clear that Zwick does know something about political spin when he's asked about the role of Romney's Mormon faith in fund-raising. Utahns — of whom a majority are members of the LDS Church — not only support Romney in polls but also with their checkbooks.

The state is second only to California in the amount of contributions to the Romney campaign, with a whopping $3.8 million coming from Utah residents in the first six months of the year.

Last year, the Romney campaign ran into trouble when the Boston Globe reported a now-abandoned effort that involved local members of its fund-raising arm to establish a national network of LDS supporters that included a meeting with a church official.

Zwick, who did not participate in the meeting, is careful these days to downplay the campaign's interest in Mormon donors. "We don't ask for religious affiliation when we ask for a contribution," he said, promising there "never will be coordination with the LDS Church."

Utah is critical to the campaign, Zwick said, but not just because of the church. Romney spent the "best three years of his life" in the state running the Olympics. "For us not to take advantage of that relationship and the time he spent here would be foolish," he said.

And belonging to the LDS Church is no guarantee someone will be willing to make a contribution to Romney. "Just because he's Mormon doesn't mean every Mormon is going to pony up," Zwick said.

Zwick said his own membership in the LDS Church "isn't what gives me a connection to Mitt.... I am an active member of the LDS Church, and that gives me a core value system and a belief system, but it doesn't affect how I do my job or the tactics I use."

'Sixth son'

Sometimes called Romney's "sixth son," Zwick said what he likes about his boss is what he sees in the off hours. "After a long day, when you get on a plane and watch how he interacts with his kids. There's nothing fake about that guy," he said. "What you see is what you get."

Utah developer Kem Gardner, a longtime Romney friend and a national finance co-chairman for the campaign, said Zwick has earned his position.

"Spencer is very bright. He's very loyal to Mitt and he's extremely hard working. This is a 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week job," Gardner said. "Mitt treats Spencer like his own son. He's very good to him. But Mitt demands performance and Spencer delivers."

Just what the future holds for Zwick remains to be seen. He downplays any possibility he could end up with a post in a Romney administration and talks instead about wanting to return with his young family to Utah.

"I've never told (Romney) no. But I'm not doing this because I love politics and I'm not doing this because I have a burning desire to got to Washington, D.C., and work for the federal government," Zwick said. "I'm doing it to get him elected."

Still, the Zwicks — Spencer, his wife Jenny and their sons, Spencer Scott, 2 1/2, and Peter, 2 1/2 months — may not be moving back to Utah any time soon. "I say I'll be done after this campaign" is won, Zwick said. "But then he's got to run for re-election."