SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's State Republican Party Chairman James Evans said the effort to draft former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney into running again in 2016 should be ready for a national launch in August.
"I've gotten tons of emails from people saying, 'What can I do to help?' It has been overwhelmingly positive," Evans said. "We're scrambling to get things in place because we know the demand is there."
The state party leader said momentum continues to build for another Romney candidacy, citing a recent poll of New Hampshire voters that put the 2012 GOP nominee considerably ahead of other potential Republican candidates.
There was talk, too, of drafting Romney at a recent retreat for his top donors in Deer Valley despite the presence of possible GOP contenders, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Sen. Paul Ryan.
Romney has repeatedly said he has no interest in a third bid for the White House. At the retreat, he told reporters it was "very nice and heartening to have people say such generous things, but I'm not running and they know it."
The former head of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah even joked that the nation's big GOP contributors were treating politics like dating. "The unavailable," he said, "is always the most attractive, right?"
Evans isn't buying that Romney is off the market.
"We're convinced that if Mitt is called to duty, he'll answer," Evans said. "It's our job to kind of respectfully push him along. Because he knows he's the one who needs to be president."
Bountiful real estate developer Scott Keller, who hosted a campaign fundraiser for Romney at his home, said in a statement he's supporting the "Draft Mitt" effort and believes other contributors to Romney's past campaigns will too.
“I feel that, given the right conditions, folks who are campaign donors like myself would donate to the 'Draft Mitt' cause simply because he is still the best uniquely qualified person for the job," Keller said.
With Tuesday's primary election over, Evans said he'll be able to focus on signing up state directors around the country and choose a national headquarters between South Carolina and Florida, both key presidential primary states.
The paperwork for creating the nonprofit organization is being finalized, Evans said, and should be filed with federal authorities shortly. The yet-to-be-named organization will advocate for voter registration as well as a Romney run, he said.
The website created for a "Draft Mitt" petition was updated earlier this week and now includes links to a Facebook page. As of Thursday evening, more than 26,000 people had signed the petition that organizers promise will be hand-delivered to Romney.
"There are a lot of folks who are opening up to the idea," said Brett Nielsen, vice president of an online marketing company who worked on Romney's 2012 campaign and is a volunteer for the effort to draft him.
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers isn't one of them.
Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said he takes Romney at his word that he won't be a candidate in 2016.
"I would never want to dampen anybody's enthusiasm and actions on Mitt's behalf," he said.
However, Jowers said, the Romney family "sacrificed a lot for his two runs, and it is hard to ask him to sign up for a third."
Nielsen said he realizes getting Romney in the race is a longshot.
"I certainly understand he's not interested in running, and he's even proactively promoting other folks to take the mantle. But you just never know," he said. "It's still worth a shot. There are a lot of folks who believe in him."
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