World & Nation

GOP 2016 contenders to court Mitt Romney’s top donors in Utah

Mitt Romney, Joni Ernst
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney greets supporters before speaking at a rally for Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, left, last month in Cedar Rapids.
(Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press)

Top donors to Mitt Romney’s two presidential campaigns are gathering this week for the former Massachusetts governor’s annual retreat in Park City, where they will get a fresh look at many of the top potential 2016 contenders.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Wisconsin Rep. Paul D. Ryan will all address the gathering of some of the Republican Party’s most influential bundlers at the summit that begins Thursday.

The series of panels and speeches, which are closed to the press, will focus this year on the themes of American competitiveness and America’s role as a leader around the world, as well as some political topics including the Republican Party’s deficit among women voters.

During Romney’s 2012 presidential run, the event was a way to bring top donors together to strategize about the fall campaign. But last year, as Romney moved into a new role as one of his party’s elder statesmen, his aides said he was keen to debate issues in an informal setting while introducing his top donors to the next crop of potential Republican presidential nominees in 2016.


Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, who are both seriously weighing a presidential run, were invited to the Park City conference, but were unable to attend because of scheduling conflicts.

As in past years, Romney, his former campaign finance chairman Spencer Zwick and Romney’s long time advisor Beth Myers have assembled an eclectic group of speakers that includes Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former deputy CIA director Michael Morrell, and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, who is expected to talk about increasingly fierce economic competition between the U.S. and China.

One potential Democratic contender for president, former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, also will speak to the group during the conference, which occurs the same week that Hillary Clinton is setting out on a coast-to-coast book tour that could presage her 2016 run. While Clinton has effectively managed to clear the field as she considers her presidential plans, Schweitzer recently raised eyebrows by telling Time Magazine that he would make a better president than she would. Last year, Romney’s Democratic guests included President Obama’s campaign strategist David Axelrod, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

This year, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a rising star in the Republican Party, is slated to be part of a panel that will discuss how Republicans can enhance their appeal to women voters. The panel will include Republican Strategist Ana Navarro, a close advisor to Jeb Bush, Utah congressional candidate Mia Love and Mary Bono, the former California congresswoman.


The potential presidential candidates will once again lead a number of the retreat’s outdoor activities. Options include mountain-biking with Portman and skeet shooting with Paul Ryan. Guests can also go horse-back riding with the Romneys.

The conference comes as Romney has emerged as one of the most visible Republican surrogates in the mid-term elections. He campaigned recently in Iowa for Senate candidate Joni Ernst and has held fundraisers for numerous candidates. He appeared in a television commercial supporting U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho. Later this summer, he is expected to campaign with New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator.

Romney was also active in California’s recent primary. (On the eve of the primary, Romney was featured on a phone message to voters from an outside group that was helping California gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari. Romney was one of the first people Kashkari thanked during a speech the morning after he won a spot on the November ballot. 

While the 2014 campaigns will not be a focus of the Park City conference, Romney’s advisors say he will continue trying to help his favored candidates connect with his past donors.

“It’s gratifying for him to be able to go out there and continue to do what he did for three cycles—2008, 2010 and 2012,” said Myers, Romney’s longtime political adviser. “He wants to elect good conservatives, and he wants to restore America’s leadership position in the world and make sure Americans have good jobs, and that’s something he’s able to do in 2014 by supporting people who he’s gotten to know.”  

Myers noted that Romney has been especially pleased to help candidates like Ernst, who was one of his first supporters back in 2007.

“I think he’s tickled that she decided to run, and he was an enthusiastic supporter of hers from the get-go.” Back in Iowa recently, Myers said, “I watched how relaxed he was on the trail with Joni, and how much absolute fun it was for him to see all the people he’d come to know and really like after campaigning there for two cycles.”

While many of the bundlers and donors heading to Park City would love to see Romney run for president a third time, his answer has been an emphatic “No.”


For the second year, the conference is being sponsored in part by Solamere Capital, the investment firm co-founded by Zwick, Romney’s son Tagg and Eric Scheuermann. (The former Massachusetts governor now serves as Solamere’s executive partner group chairman).


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