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Romney bringing 2016 presidential hopefuls, donors to Deer Valley

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 2 2015 12:53 a.m. MDT

Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney will host a Deer Valley retreat this summer that will bring together big-money donors and potential 2016 contenders. (Associated Press) Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney will host a Deer Valley retreat this summer that will bring together big-money donors and potential 2016 contenders. (Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY — Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney appears to be stepping up his post-election involvement in Republican Party politics by hosting a Deer Valley retreat this summer that will bring together big-money donors and potential 2016 contenders.

"It would suggest he wants to remain a power broker and to remain influential," said Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "It seems like he has a real interest in trying to help guide the party through a time of difficulty and soul-searching."

Romney has stayed out of the public eye since his November loss, giving his first speech since then earlier this month to the Conservative Political Action Conference. There, the former Utah Olympic leader said that "as someone who just lost the last election, I'm probably not the best person to chart the course of the next election."

Now, however, Romney appears ready to help the GOP prepare for the next White House run. 

At least two possible 2016 presidential candidates, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney's vice-presidential pick, will attend a June event billed as four days of hearing from "Experts and Enthusiasts" in politics and business.

Romney attracted some of the biggest names in the Republican Party to Deer Valley last June to a fundraiser for his presidential race. Then, supporters paid a minimum contribution of $50,000 — or raised at least $250,000 for the campaign — to mingle with what was billed as a GOP "Dream Team," including party strategist Karl Rove.

The 2012 event also featured Ryan, who had yet to be chosen as Romney's running mate, along with several other Republicans rumored to be on the short list for the vice-presidential nomination, such as former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

University of Iowa political science professor Tim Hagle said Romney seems to be taking a low-key role as a former candidate, using his business skills to help facilitate discussions about the GOP's future rather than make public proclamations.

"He can become that sort of senior statement-type person if he wants to," Hagle said. "He strikes me as not the kind of guy who would want to sort of push himself out there in ways. He doesn't need that. He's a successful enough guy staying behind the scenes."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, a key surrogate for Romney on the campaign trail, said the two-time presidential candidate has a lot to teach the party about both his successes and failures.

"He has unbounding energy and a unique perspective our party should learn from. We're not so cold as to kick him to the curb, never to be heard from again. That wouldn't be right. I think from time to time, he'll be actively involved, as he should be," Chaffetz said.

And Romney, the congressman said, wants to contribute.

"He's not going to do it unless he wants to. It's not like he has to," Chaffetz said. "I think he feels an obligation to help the party that helped him so much."

Another longtime Romney supporter, Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said there's an incentive for politicians to participate in the retreat.

"Romney was the leader of the party, at least during his campaign against President Obama, and a number of individuals and groups who are looking for leadership in the Republican Party are eager to associate with Mitt and certainly his donor base," Jowers said.

While the next presidential race is still years away, candidates are already gearing up. Hagle said Romney's toughest GOP challenger, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, is scheduled to visit Iowa next month and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., will speak in the early voting state in May.

Both Hagle and Wilson said it will be difficult for any would-be presidential candidate to skip Romney's retreat.

"We're not going to see a lot of jockeying at this stage, but all the players will want to have a seat at that table," Wilson said.  

This year's retreat is being sponsored by Solamere Capital, the Boston-based equity firm that Romney recently announced he was joining, but there is a $5,000 cost to attend. It is not clear whether the money collected will only go toward the event's expenses or could be used to support GOP candidates.

Solamere also hosted an investors conference in Deer Valley during last June's retreat, The firm was started five years ago by Romney's eldest son, Tagg, and his 2008 and 2012 campaign finance chairman, Spencer Zwick. Romney, who amassed a personal fortune as a Boston financier, reportedly will serve as the firm's chairman.

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