Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush meeting privately in Utah on Thursday – Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Leading potential Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, who are engaged in a behind-the-scenes competition for dollars and support among party loyalists, are to meet in Utah on Thursday.

Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said the former Florida governor is “looking forward to catching up with Governor Romney” on Thursday and the meeting has long been scheduled. A Romney adviser described the meeting as social.

People familiar with the meeting said it was requested by Bush as a courtesy to the 2012 Republican nominee, and was scheduled before Romney made public his desire for a third presidential run. Bush had a similar meeting in September with the 2008 nominee, Senator John McCain.

With Romney now openly pondering a candidacy, the session gives the two men a chance to take a measure of each other’s intentions in 2016.

Bush backers have expressed doubts about a third try at the White House by Romney, while Romney supporters question whether Bush has the passion it takes to mount a successful bid.

Both Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H. W. Bush, and Romney are competing for support from the establishment wing of the Republican Party.

“I’d say this is a highly unusual move,” Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said. “The fact that they are meeting is significant because it could lead to some decisions on the future of their candidacies.”

A former Bush administration official said politics and presidential ambitions were likely to be discussed.

“Keep in mind that several people who helped Romney in the past are the people getting Jeb set up now. I’m sure they also felt it was important to have a meeting with the former nominee early,” the former official said.

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, announced last week he is seriously considering a third presidential campaign, about a month after Bush declared he is considering a candidacy.

Bush’s moves have made the path to the White House tougher for potential Republican rivals, including Romney who ran unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2012. Other 2016 hopefuls include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

The meeting in Utah, where Romney has a home south of Salt Lake City, takes place as potential candidates prepare for the Iowa Freedom Summit on Saturday, a forum organized by Iowa Republican Representative Steve King.

(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait, Tom Brown and Andrew Hay)


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