Politics & Government

Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney to meet, raising speculation on presidential race

Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney are scheduled to meet privately in Utah this week, raising the possibility that the two former governors will find a way to avoid competing presidential campaigns that would split the Republican establishment next year, two prominent party members said Wednesday night.

The meeting was planned before Mr. Romney’s surprise announcement two weeks ago to donors in New York that he was considering a third run at the White House.

Mr. Bush initiated the meeting, according to one of the party members familiar with the planning.

The original idea was for Mr. Bush — who announced his own presidential ambitions in December — to show his respect for the Republican Party’s 2012 nominee. It stayed on both men’s calendars even as Mr. Romney took steps to test the presidential waters himself, moves that could make the meeting awkward.

Aides to Mr. Romney and Mr. Bush did not reply to requests for comment.

The talks come as both men have been making a flurry of phone calls to Republican donors and officials to sound them out and gather commitments ahead of what could be a bruising primary race.

In some cases, Mr. Bush and Mr. Romney are calling the same people just hours apart. Many of the contributors and elected officials they are courting are hoping to stave off a collision between the two that could imperil the party’s chances in a general election.

Mr. Bush, a former Florida governor, and Mr. Romney, who was governor in Massachusetts, are neither friends nor adversaries. But Mr. Bush offered little help to Mr. Romney in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, and tensions have grown since Mr. Bush said that he was exploring a presidential bid.

Mr. Bush has been critical of the way Mr. Romney ran his 2012 campaign, and Mr. Romney has raised questions in private about whether Mr. Bush, who in recent years has worked in the finance industry, would be vulnerable to the attacks that so damaged his own campaign against President Obama.

Both Republicans have deep ties to leading Republican fund-raisers, and Mr. Bush — the son of one former president and the brother of another — has already won pledges of support.

But Mr. Romney’s expression of interest, made public in a speech to the Republican National Committee last week in San Diego, has stopped some of the party’s coveted fund-raising bundlers from making firm commitments.

A number of Mr. Romney’s loyalists have made their own phone calls and sent emails asking associates to hold off on any commitments until Mr. Romney makes a decision.

Establishment Republicans are eager for Mr. Romney to make his intentions clear, but he said in a speech in California on Monday that he had no timeline in mind before making a decision.