Mitt Romney taps key hedge fund advisers for potential return to politics – and maybe even the presidency

Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is reaching out to a couple of trusted advisers now working at his hedge fund, Solamere Capital, to build a campaign apparatus as he moves closer to running for a U.S. Senate seat – and possibly weighs another presidential run, FOX Business has learned.

As reported, Romney is considering to run for the seat being vacated by veteran GOP Sen. Orin Hatch of Utah, who announced he’s retiring at the end of 2018 after he completes his final term in office. One indication that Romney is likely to compete for the GOP nomination is that he has already cobbled together a small campaign staff to be headed by his long-time political aide and business partner, Spencer Zwick, the co-founder and managing partner of the company, and Matt Waldrip, the head of business development at Solamere, according to three sources familiar with knowledge of the matter.

Zwick confirmed to FOX Business that he will work with Romney if he decides to run; the decision is expected imminently and will be made after Romney consults with his family and his wife Ann.

“If he makes that announcement, will I help him? Of course I will,” Zwick said in a telephone interview. “As for particular roles, none of that has been decided. [He] has to decide that this is something they want to do first.”

Contacted by email, Waldrip did not deny that he would be part of a potential Romney Senate run, telling FOX Business: "With Senator Hatch just announcing his intentions yesterday, Mitt and Ann will be discussing with family and friends over the next few days and talking to people in Utah."

A spokeswoman for Romney did not return repeated calls for comment.

GOP operatives are buzzing about Romney’s next move in politics. After losing the 2012 presidential election, the former Massachusetts governor briefly flirted with running for president in 2016. His on-again-off-again feuding with President Trump, and his stature within establishment Republican circles has kept him in the political headlines as a possible counterweight to the populist Trump wing of the party.

Romney is a Mormon, and given Utah’s large Mormon population, he would seem a natural fit to succeed Hatch and complete his remaining 12 months that’s left of the term if he decides to run. Moreover, Romney successfully managed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. That made him a state-wide hero after he raised significant sums of outside cash for the games that erased a massive debt amid a bribery scandal.

But GOP operatives say if Romney does capture the seat, he will also have his eye on a bigger prize and possibly look to challenge Trump in 2020, particularly if the president’s historically low approval ratings continue.

“The rumor is that if Romney runs and wins Hatch’s seat, and Trump looks vulnerable, he might make a go for the White House in 2020,” said one major GOP fundraiser. “It will be a bloodbath for sure but if Trump looks weak, it might happen.”

Zwick and Waldrip have extensive experience in campaign fundraising and are part of Romney’s old guard during his two attempts to run for president, giving him an advantage in the Senate race regardless of who opposes him. Zwick is so close to Romney and his extended family that he’s often referred to as the “Sixth Romney” (Romney has five sons, including Tagg Romney who is also a managing partner of Solamere).

“Zwick and his machine are ready,” said one GOP operative who regularly works on campaigns in Utah. “With Zwick in charge of funding, they don’t need to overspend and the general election will likely be a breeze.”

Waldrip was a key campaign aide for Romney’s 2008 run for president and later became the deputy finance director for his 2012 presidential campaign. Zwick was finance chairman for both the 2008 and 2012 campaigns and was Romney’s deputy chief of staff when he was governor of Massachusetts.

Still, sources close to Romney say the former Massachusetts governor, who has a home in Utah, has indicated that he is likely to move ahead with a campaign run immediately after Hatch, one of the GOP’s elder statesmen, announced his retirement after 40 years in the Senate. Most recently, the 83-year-old Hatch served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and helped craft the Republican tax reform bill that passed through Congress in December and was signed by President Trump later that month.

Some GOP operatives have speculated that Romney’s brand of establishment politics—he’s in favor of free trade and is less populist on issues like immigration—is out of step with many base GOP voters. When he ran for president, losing the GOP nomination to Arizona Sen. John McCain in 2008 and his unsuccessful 2012 campaign against former president Barack Obama, Romney was known to accept contributions from the highest levels of Wall Street, with much of the fundraising being assembled by Zwick. In 2012, executives from Goldman Sachs contributed more than $1 million to his campaign and securities and investment firms as a whole coughed up more than $23 million for that year alone, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

After Romney criticized Trump during the 2016 campaign, Trump called Romney a “phony” and said during a rally that Romney came “begging” for his endorsement in 2012.

"I could've said, 'Mitt, drop to your knees,'" Trump added.

Still, once Trump became president-elect in November 2016, he briefly considered naming Romney his secretary of state, a post that went to Rex Tillerson. And Romney aides see an opening for their man that might extend beyond the Senate seat, if he decides to run, to include a possible presidential run if the current president enters 2020 in a weakened state.

Trump’s brand of populist politics combined with his volatile personal nature has made him one of the least-popular presidents in modern history. Special counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate alleged Russian meddling into the 2016 election and whether key people in the Trump orbit aided those efforts. Meanwhile, voters have rejected some of Trump’s most recent populist candidates such as Roy Moore, the conservative firebrand who lost to Democrat Doug Jones in the solidly-Republican state of Alabama.

“He’s not going into this as a ‘never Trumper,’” Zwick said in an interview. “The guy interviewed to serve in President Trump’s cabinet so that’s not the case. What Mitt has proven time and time again is that he will call things out as he sees them. Whether it’s against the Senate, the House or the president, that’s who Mitt Romney is,” Zwick said.