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, met privately in Utah on Thursday.
Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said the former Florida governor had wanted to catch up with Romney and that the meeting had long been scheduled. A Romney spokesman said the meeting had taken place but provided no details.
People familiar with the meeting said it was requested by Bush as a courtesy to the 2012 Republican nominee and had been 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 gave the two men a chance to take a measure of each other’s intentions in 2016.
After the meeting, there was no indication of any change in the trajectory of each man’s exploration of a candidacy.
Romney is “doing due diligence, talking to a lot of people and getting a lot of feedback. It’s been very positive,” a senior Romney adviser said.
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.
The Romney adviser said it was a myth that the two men are not friends. “They’re not best buddies, but they have great, great respect for each other,” the adviser said.
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 noted 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.”
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, announced last week he was seriously considering a third presidential campaign, about a month after Bush declared he was 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, took 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, Andrew Hay and Leslie Adler