Jowers has his eye on Romney

One U administrator has a personal stake in seeing governor of Massachusetts and 2008 presidential-hopeful Mitt Romney succeed.

Kirk Jowers, director of the U’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, is senior legal counsel for Romney’s Commonwealth PAC (political action committee). Romney has been labeled one of the top contenders for the Republican nomination in the next presidential election.

While Romney has not yet declared his candidacy, he has started to raise funds and gather advisers through his PAC, which political science Professor Matthew Burbank said is an indication of his intention to run. Romney has also announced that he will not seek a second term as governor.

Jowers shies away from discussing Romney’s political future, but said if Romney were to seek the Oval Office, he is more than fit for the job.

“He’s someone that this country needs right now; he looks at our issues from the perspective of wanting to solve them and has the ability to do it,” Jowers said.

Jowers met Romney 13 years ago while attending law school at Harvard. At the time, Romney was seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate. Romney lost the race to incumbent Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., but Jowers stayed in touch with the eager, young politician and now considers him a close friend.

“I was very impressed with him then, and I’ve become more impressed as I’ve gotten to know him,” Jowers said.

Jowers is not new to working for White House hopefuls, however. In 2000, before being hired as Hinckley Institute director in 2005, he worked as legal adviser on Sen. John McCain’s, R-Ariz., unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency.

Now, six years later, McCain is considered to be the front-runner for the nomination; even though he has not declared, he has begun amassing funds and supporters through his PAC. The National Journal recently ranked McCain as the No. 1 contender for the Republican nod, followed by Romney in second.

Although Jowers is fond of McCain, he said he believes Romney is the better candidate.

“I think there’s a real advantage to bringing in someone who hasn’t been in D.C. for all these years. He has a true outsider perspective. He’s relatively new to elected politics,” he said.

Jowers also said not being connected to the war on terror and the Iraq war helps Romney appear “more fresh” to voters and the international community.

Burbank agreed that Romney stands a better chance as a Washington outsider because he doesn’t have the long voting record that a seasoned senator like McCain would have.

“Being outside the Washington system means it’s a little bit harder to pigeonhole you,” he said.

Burbank said McCain’s popularity at this point is due mostly to name recognition, a factor he said could change if Romney announces he’s running.

One particular obstacle facing Romney is his religion. Political analysts and opinion polls have indicated that Evangelicals in the Republican Party are wary of voting for a member of the LDS Church.

However, Jowers, who is also LDS, said he thinks when voters get to know Romney they will not see him as the “Mormon candidate.”

“I don’t think it will be as big an issue as the press thinks it is right now,” Jowers said. “I think most of them are above a religious test, and as they get to know Mitt, religion becomes one bullet point on his rsum.”

Burbank said the majority of voters view members of the LDS Church positively, but also said religion might be a harder sell with Republican Evangelicals in the South.

“If you aren’t winning those folks, you’re in trouble,” he said.

Administrators at the U view Jowers’ connection as an attribute to the institute of politics. Steven Ott, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences, said that at first he was surprised by Jowers’ connection to Romney, but said the institute benefits from having partisan directors with D.C. connections as long as they don’t let their biases affect the institute’s programming.

“If you get someone who is (politically dead), you’re not going to have an active Hinckley Institute,” Ott said. “The Hinckley Institute is not non-partisan; it is fiercely bi-partisan.”

Ott said the institute of politics has always had partisan directors and pointed to Ted Wilson, former Salt Lake City mayor and a Democrat, as an example of a partisan director.

Bryson Morgan, a student who works in the Hinckley Institute, said Jowers’ political connections have been fruitful for the institute.

“Not only does Kirk have great connections with the Romney campaign, he also has many connections with groups on both sides of the aisle,” Morgan said. “I just hope we can keep him here past whatever happens in 2008.”

Jowers said balancing his duties at the institute with Romney’s PAC and his private law practice has been difficult, but that the positions work well together.

“As long as I can keep it going, I think it’s a real boon to the Hinckley Institute to be able to capitalize on these connections around the country and around the world,” he said.

AP Photo

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney