2016 presidential hopefuls gathering for Romney Deer Valley retreat

Published: Thursday, June 12 2014 6:15 p.m. MDT

March 13, 2012 - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign stop at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

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DEER VALLEY — Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Thursday kicked off his annual policy retreat that puts big-money donors together with Republican contenders for the White House in 2016.

The guest list for the three-day private gathering at the Stein Eriksen Lodge includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's 2012 running mate.

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio were invited but are not able to attend. The only Democrat who may run for president expected is former Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

The E2 (for experts and enthusiasts) Summit will also feature Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning as well as former Secretary of State George Schultz, former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and other government and business leaders.

Also making an appearance is Utah congressional candidate Mia Love, who's running again in the 4th District after nearly beating retiring Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, there in 2012.

Love, who, if she wins in November, would be the first black female Republican member of the U.S. House, said she was invited to participate in a panel about Republican women.

"We're going to talk about the experience of being conservative women," Love told the Deseret News. She said she intends to focus on the need to bring more women into politics.

"I think the best people to talk about women's issues are women," the former Saratoga Springs mayor said. "We live in the real world. We work. We have children. We play all sorts of roles."

Joining Love in the discussion will be New Mexico Gov. Susanna Martinez and GOP strategist Ana Navarro.

Love said she had no plans to mingle with the wealthy contributors to Romney's campaign, many of whom are also investors in Solamere, a private equity firm that is sponsoring the retreat. The firm is founded by Romney's son Tagg.

"That's not what I'm there to do," she said, adding she hopes she can leave the panel early to attend an Eagle Scout ceremony. "I think it's more of an honor, that invite."

Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon said while Republicans "gather in luxury" and participate in events such as skeet-shooting with Ryan, Utah's GOP leaders are blocking Medicaid expansion and other reforms.

"The priorities of the Republican Party are clear — donors and ideology before people," Corroon said.

Love said she anticipates Romney will again endorse her in her race against Democrat Doug Owens. She addressed the Republican National Convention that nominated Romney but said she has no favorite candidate for president this time.

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said Love could end up hitting the campaign trail for a GOP candidate in 2016, given her already-high profile in the party.

"She could be a very important person come 2016," Hagle said. "She has the potential to be a national figure if she wants it."

Hagle said Romney is also raising his profile with this event. He said the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah seems to be looking for more political involvement.

"I'm kind of surprised. I would have thought he would be disgusted with it all after he got roughed up" in the last election, Hagle said. "But he seems to have put it past him."

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