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SALT LAKE CITY — Just days before Mitt Romney's announcement Friday that he won't make a third run for president, one of his staunchest Utah supporters was ready to join the campaign full time.
"I wanted Mitt to know I would do whatever he wanted and give whatever he needed," said Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and the chairman of Romney's leadership political action committees.
Although Romney may not have gotten the national reception he hoped for when he said earlier this month he was considering another run for president, there was encouragement for him in Utah.
Jowers said he notified U. President David Pershing earlier this week that he planned to leave the Hinckley Institute if Romney got in the race, likely to serve as general counsel and as a top adviser to the campaign.
Even though he believed there was only a 50-50 chance Romney would make another bid for the White House, Jowers said he wanted to be prepared to give this campaign his all.
"One of my biggest regrets from the last two (Romney campaigns) is I didn't give 100 percent. I kept my other jobs," Jowers said. "This time, I wanted to make sure I left the proverbial everything on the field."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, who spent nearly 100 days on the campaign trail for Romney in the Republican's 2012 bid to unseat President Barack Obama, said Friday's announcement was a "bummer. I wish we could have seen it play out."
Chaffetz said Romney has been reminded repeatedly in the past weeks the personal toll of running for president.
"He certainly got another taste of it. The former candidate, boy, they always look good. But when you start to put your toe back in the water, it's not as warm as it was before," the congressman said.
One of my biggest regrets from the last two (Romney campaigns) is I didn't give 100 percent. I kept my other jobs. This time, I wanted to make sure I left the proverbial everything on the field.
–Kirk Jowers, U. Hinckley Institute of Politics
Jowers, too, said Romney "needed to understand the full dynamics" of what another run would mean for him and his family.
"He knows that anyone who sticks their head out of the bunker gets shot at and also gets the praise as a hero. He got plenty from all sides," Jowers said, after months of adulation on the campaign trail for Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.
He said Romney had been committed to supporting another Republican for president throughout the past year, but then began to believe he was in the best position to win back the White House for the GOP.
Polls have shown Romney leading other Republican contenders, including Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Kentucky Rep. Rand Paul as well as the likely Democratic candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
But Romney bowed out after one last "gut check," Jowers said, and realized there were others in his party who could win the next presidential election. Romney has not indicated who he will support now that he's out.
Last week, Bush traveled to Utah to meet with Romney about the presidential race. Jowers said he does not believe their discussion had much impact on Romney's deliberations.
Romney, who led the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, recently became a Utah resident again. He has also talked more openly about his Mormon faith than he did as a candidate in 2008 and 2012.
House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, one of the few state lawmakers who backed former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr.'s short-lived run for the GOP nomination in 2012, said voters didn't see enough of that side of Romney.
"There's a lot about Mitt Romney that would endear you to him but he wasn't willing to share about his personal life," Hughes said. "I think some of that he was becoming more open about."
Gov. Gary Herbert, who backed Romney in past elections, said he respected Romney's decision not to run. The GOP governor said he was sure Romney "will continue to be an influential conservative voice on important issues."
Herbert had stopped short of endorsing Romney for a third time and said Friday the GOP "has a very strong field of potential candidates — particularly among the governors — and I like our chances to take back the White House in 2016."
Just what role Romney plays in the upcoming election now remains to be seen.
Utah GOP Chairman James Evans, who launched a "Draft Mitt" movement last year, said he's not sure Romney won't get back in the race.
"There is a scenario if none of the candidates catch fire and really break through, where we go back to Mitt and say, 'We need you to do this,'" Evans said. "We'll just have to wait and see."
And while Romney now calls Utah home, Chaffetz said he doesn't see him running for office here.
"I don't think he runs for anything else," Chaffetz said, including the U.S. Senate. "One of 100? I doubt it."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy