Travis Hawkes was a standout in the Borah High School Class of 1994: most inspirational player on a state championship basketball team, a candidate for class clown, and son of a father with a car lot.
A sophomore with a ride, Hawkes would squeeze five buddies into his white Toyota Corolla for lunch. Then, hed unleash his inner nerd.
Wed be in the Big Bun drive-through listening to Rush Limbaugh, recalls Devon Hart, a friend since kindergarten at Jackson Elementary.
These kids who didnt know him as well are saying, What in the world? Why are we listening to Rush Limbaugh? But Travis knows all the topics. The other kids are like, Are you out of your mind? Youre 16 years old. You shouldnt be listening to this!
His interest was akin to his passion for sports, which began on the playground at Jackson, where the third-grader signed the best players to contracts for pickup football.
Now 37, Hawkes is Mitt Romneys Idaho finance co-chairman, having spent five years, on and off, working to help make Romney president.
In his youth, he was attracted to the game of politics. It wasnt that I felt so strongly about certain policies, Hawkes says. It just fascinated me for the sport of it, from a strategic perspective.
At 11, he watched the Iran-Contra hearings, captivated by Oliver North. In 1994, when Limbaugh started talking about a Boston businessman named Mitt Romney who was giving Sen. Ted Kennedy a run for his money in Massachusetts, Hawkes followed the race.
When Romney re-emerged as savior of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics and parlayed that into a winning campaign for Massachusetts governor, Hawkes was hooked. In 2007, as he moved to take over his dads two Pro Image sports clothing stores and a Capz store, his wife listened as he committed to Romney for President, making a $25 contribution online.
He says, Im going to help raise money for him, recalls Abbee Hawkes, whod just given birth to the couples third child. I just kind of said, OK, babe, whatever you want to do. I was in a total fog.
Hawkes has helped raise $6 million for Romney 2012 in Idaho $4 million of that from Idahoans quadrupling the Gem State record. In August, Clint Eastwood made his first appearance for Romney at a Hawkes-organized event in Sun Valley, which drew 400 and set a single-day Idaho record of $2.2 million.
Hes campaigned for Romney in Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida, been a delegate to the national convention, attended the game-changing debate in Denver and for the past month has organized weekly buses from Eastern Idaho that take volunteers to Nevada and Colorado.
Today, Hawkes is at Romney headquarters in Boston, working on last-minute get-out-the-vote efforts. Abbee will join him there on election night, hoping to celebrate a victory.
A BUSINESS GUY
At 10, Hawkes was working the register at his dads Pro Image store in Boises Westgate Mall and helping choose sports merchandise.
He was very good with figures and money and so forth, said Bill Hawkes, who opened the House of Hardtops in 1969, later called Bills Hardtops, now Hawkes Motors on Fairview Avenue. Another son, Ryan, now owns the lot with a partner.
Travis Hawkes came up with the idea of opening the Blue & Orange Store in the Boise Towne Square Mall in 2006, which both his dad and the franchiser, Pro Image CEO Dave Riley, thought was nuts. Last year, Blue & Orange was the No. 1 franchise among almost 100 stores. Hawkes Pro Image store which sells non-Boise State sports gear at the mall was No. 2.
We have stores in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, the Mall of America in Minnesota, Riley said. Hes been able to do this whole politics thing with his stores thriving.
It was Romneys business savvy that drew the adult Hawkes to the candidate. Everything this guys done has been successful, said Hawkes, who got his business degree at Boise State and became a major Bronco booster.
Among those Hawkes converted to the cause was Riley, a Democrat who lives in Salt Lake City. He just kept talking to me and pointing out business reasons and tax reasons and all those fun things I probably knew anyway.
In 2007, Don Stirling of Salt Lake City, a top aide to Romney at the Olympics, was overseeing Romneys fundraising in the mountain states. A colleague in Boston urged him to contact Hawkes, saying he was the real deal. But Stirling delayed talking to Hawkes, who had never worked on a campaign at any level.
I pooh-poohed it and said, Quit bugging me about this guy Travis Hawkes, recalled Stirling.
Stirling changed his mind when he and Hawkes sat next to each other on the flight to Dallas for Romneys Faith in America speech in December 2007, a critical moment for the LDS candidate.
I told Travis I should have called him much, much earlier, Stirling said.
Stirling left the campaign in January to become western regional finance director for Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney super PAC. He and Hawkes cant coordinate these days, but Stirling said Hawkes is even better than advertised.
He turned out to be one of the best fundraisers the Romney team has across the country, Stirling said. Hes fearless, hes relentless and he has a soft touch around the basket. People never walk away saying, That guys obnoxious. They say, That guy really believes in Mitt and the cause, and hes making me see how important my contribution can be.
When Hawkes first volunteered, he told his wife his goal was to meet the candidate. That happened at Idaho Falls billionaire Frank VanderSloots house in June 2007.
It was a handshake and a smile and a picture, Hawkes recalls. It was very inconsequential to him. For me, it was amazing because it was the first time.
GONNA PUMP YOU UP!
Later that summer, Hawkes met Romney again at a Cape Cod retreat. In November 2007, his first big test came a Romney fundraiser at Boises Hillcrest Country Club.
Milford Terrell, owner of DeBest Plumbing, longtime member of the State Board of Education and fellow member of the $5,000-a-year BSU Coaches Club, was there. As Terrell tells it, the details were perfect, right down to the brass Mitt pins and cases of Romney Root Beer for donors.
He went from ground zero to running a presidential campaign in Idaho, Terrell said. Hes a convincer, a pump-you-up guy. Everybody would love to have that kind of guy, the kind you have to hold back a little bit.
Bill Hawkes said he and Travis mother, Nancy, are prouder and prouder of Travis, based on reliable reports. Ive had a lot of big money people say, Boy, your son got me for way more than I wanted to pay. But I really, really like him.
Jody Clark, a retired Borah government teacher who inspired Hawkes, wasnt surprised to see his name on her absentee ballot under Romneys as one of Idahos four Republican members of the Electoral College.
Though Clark was a Democrat, Hawkes said, we had incredible conversations.
Clark said Hawkes was excitable, but kind and respectful. I thought whatever he did he was going to be amazing at it. He had such a passion.
TAHOES AND CADILLACS
Hawkes was Romneys chauffeur in Idaho during visits from 2007 until early this year. I would pick him up in my Chevy Tahoe, which is crazy. I feel like Im going to be able to say the president of the United States sat in this Tahoe.
By the time Romney campaigned in Boise in February, two weeks before the March Idaho Republican caucus, he had Secret Service protection. With the Tahoe in the garage, Hawkes shared Romneys ride. Last week, he finally posted a photo on Facebook of the pair in the limousine.
Waiting in a holding area at The Grove Hotel on that trip, the candidate asked Hawkes about the prospects of winning all 32 Idaho delegates. I said, Yeah, we can do that. He said, OK, can you promise me? And I said, Yep. And I didnt sleep again until after the caucus because I felt all that pressure.
Idaho delivered for Romney. Its not because he yells, Hawkes said. He just leads, and people want to perform and not let him down.
Hawkes has worked as a volunteer, paying his own expenses. He hasnt kept track. Its probably best that I dont know what the number is. But I dont want campaign dollars paying for my hotel. Id rather it go to ads in Wisconsin.
What if when he meets at the Statehouse Dec. 17 to cast his Electoral College ballot, Romney wont be elected president?
No regrets, Hawkes said. What an amazing ride. It spun so far beyond anything I could have imagined.
Were bleeding in the streets for Mitt, but you cant get into this without knowing that losing is possible. Ill still feel honored and happy to cast that ballot because it represents hundreds of thousands of people in Idaho who will vote for Mitt Romney.
Dan Popkey: 377-6438, Twitter: @IDS_politics