Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush to meet in Utah

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Florida Governor Jeb Bush in 2012. (Credit: CNN)

WASHINGTON — Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are set to meet in Utah on Thursday for a meeting that Bush scheduled before Romney announced this month that he’s seriously considering a third presidential run.

A senior Republican strategist familiar with the plans, speaking only on condition of anonymity, confirmed that the sit-down was put in the books some time ago, “in the couple to several weeks range.”

The source said the meeting, which was first reported by The New York Times on Wednesday, was requested by Bush as a gesture of respect for Romney’s leadership role in the party — much like a recent Bush-John McCain meeting that took place at Bush’s request.

And now?

“Well obviously Governor Romney has changed the dynamics,” the source said.

Separately, two Romney sources and a senior Bush source confirmed that the meeting will take place.

Bush was spotted Thursday morning by CBS News boarding a flight to Salt Lake City. Asked if it was true he’s meeting with Romney, Bush responded: “I like to ski. I can’t comment.”

The former Florida governor’s itinerary this week also includes a speech Friday in San Francisco at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention.

Romney told a group of donors in New York on Jan. 9 that he was angling towards another run at the White House, less than a month after Bush jumped to Republican frontrunner status following his own announcement that he was actively exploring a bid.

The Romney announcement shook the early 2016 pre-presidential campaign and sparked confusion and competition as both men were now courting similar donors and influential Republicans behind the scenes.

Making the competition more tense was a new CBS News poll this week that showed nearly six in 10 Republicans want Romney to run for president, while 50% feel the same about Bush.

At times, their paths have almost crossed. Romney spoke publicly at last week’s Republican National Committee meeting in San Diego, for example, while Bush was also in Southern California courting donors.

Their circles are further overlapping as the two potential candidates start to staff up. Two of Romney’s former aides — Megan Sowards and Matt Gorman — are poised to play key roles in a potential Bush campaign.

Ever since the prospect of a third Romney campaign became serious, Bush has played nice about his potential competitor. According to Bloomberg Politics, Bush praised the 2012 nominee at a private fundraiser Wednesday in Washington, saying he doesn’t expect he’ll need to wage ugly campaigns against his opponents to win a primary.

Neither Bush nor Romney are scheduled so far to attend a major gathering of conservatives this weekend in Iowa. Nearly 10 prospective Republican candidates, including Gov. Chris Christie, will speak at the Iowa Freedom Summit in Des Moines on Saturday hosted by Citizens United and Rep. Steve King.

While Bush’s absence has stoked speculation that the former governor might plan to leave the first-in-the-nation caucus state out of his campaign strategy, Bush called the state’s GOP chairman on Wednesday to assure him that he plans to make Iowa a priority, the Des Moines Register reported.

“What I heard is a man that’s ready to come out and tackle the Hawkeye state,” Kaufmann said, though he noted that Bush stressed he’s still only considering a run and hasn’t become an official candidate.

Last week Ted Gatsas, mayor of Manchester, New Hampshire, tweeted that Bush had called him and told him he plans on coming to the Granite State, which holds the nominating season’s first primary, at some point, according to the Union Leader.

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