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As Romney weighs ’16 bid, his past donors commit to Jeb Bush

January 29, 2015

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Mitt Romney, closing in on a decision about whether to again run for president, is finding that several past major fundraisers and donors in key states have already committed to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

The donors, in interviews with The Associated Press, said they see in Bush what they liked about Romney in 2012, but also something Romney could not muster in his two previous campaigns: what it takes to win the White House for the Republicans. Bush is the brother and son of former presidents.

Also, the donors said, they took the former Massachusetts governor at his word when he said he would not run for president a third time. Romney, however, recently told a private group of donors that he was considering another run.

The defections to Bush do not, as of yet, appear so definitive as to keep Romney from the race.

But hesitation from some Romney loyalists and outright defection from others will make his path to the nomination, should he move ahead with a third campaign, a greater challenge than it was four years ago, when he was viewed as the front-runner from the campaign’s outset.

“I think it’s becoming exceedingly difficult,” said Gordon D. Sondland, a member of Romney’s national 2012 finance team who is now solidly behind Bush.

President Barack Obama is barred from a third term, and Hillary Rodham Clinton is the presumed Democratic frontrunner. The Republican race remains wide open, but Romney would enter a crowded field if he runs.

Earlier this week, several veterans of Republican politics told the AP they felt all of the major candidates — Romney, Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker among them — would be able to raise the money needed to compete in a primary campaign that may feature as many as two dozen contenders.

On Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said he has set up a committee to explore running, portraying himself as a proven winner and a conservative willing to work with Democrats. Graham has been a close ally of Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee who lost to Obama.

Romney has acknowledged privately in recent weeks that he needs to make a decision soon — perhaps within the next two weeks. His aides acknowledge a third campaign will be more difficult than his second, but insist he will have the necessary financial support, noting his supporters raised more than $1 billion during the 2012 election.

Several of Romney’s backers in the Chicago-area said they respected Romney’s worldview and policy positions, but are discouraged that he appears to be taking advice from the same cadre of advisers who led his failed 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

“Jeb represents the different traits, that are qualifications to hold the office and those required to be elected,” said Terry Graunke, co-founder of a Chicago private equity firm. “He and his team appear to be much more capable of contemporary strategic policy.”

A Mormon who recently relocated his primary residence to Utah, Romney retains a deep network of donors in his church and the West who are likely to help him financially should he decide to run.

Romney also has the support of stalwart donors who like Bush, but are still ready to commit again to the former Massachusetts governor’s potential campaign.

“It’s Romney first, then Jeb,” said Bill Kunkler, a vice president of a Chicago private equity firm whom Romney telephoned this month to discuss the possibility of another run.

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Follow Thomas Beaumont and Steve Peoples on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/tombeaumont and http://twitter.com/sppeoples

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