Published January 30, 2015
Mitt Romney announced Friday he will not run for president in 2016, after briefly flirting with a third White House run — a decision that only slightly narrows the crowded field of potential Republican candidates.
“After putting considerable thought into making another run for president, I’ve decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee,” Romney said in a written statement. He also was announcing his plans on a conference call with donors Friday morning.
The announcement comes after the 2012 GOP nominee, who repeatedly denied interest in another campaign, surprised donors earlier this month by telling them he was considering it.
Since then, the former Massachusetts governor spent three weeks calling donors and strategists and giving a handful of addresses, including to a Republican National Committee summit. But while some from his former campaign team were willing to wait for his decision, others were already gravitating toward the budding campaign of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.
The two heavyweights were seen as competing for many of the same donors and supporters and strategists. And some doubted whether Romney, who lost to President Obama in 2012 after a campaign in which Democrats cast him as out-of-touch, would be able to connect on a third run — even as early polls showed him leading the GOP field.
In his statement, Romney said he believes he could win the nomination, and that he would have enough funding and support.
“The reaction of Republican voters across the country was both surprising and heartening,” he said. At the same time, Romney said it would have been a “difficult test and a hard fight,” and it’s time for a new voice.
“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney said. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”
ORIGINAL STORY …
Former Mitt Romney supporters are starting to defect to the political orbit of ex-Florida Gov. Jeb Bush as both men weigh entering the 2016 presidential race, leaving the 2012 Republican nominee without part of his core team.
Romney has, nevertheless, been reaching out to key donors and strategists asking them to “hold in place,” a former Romney adviser told Fox News earlier this month. The adviser said some have agreed to do so. But the latest defections underscore the potential competition between Bush and Romney for high-powered donors and strategists.
Most recently, Bush recruited Romney’s former senior Iowa adviser, David Kochel, as a senior strategist for his newly launched Right to Rise PAC. If Bush formally pursues a White House bid, Kochel could take on a bigger role.
“If Governor Bush were to move forward with a potential campaign, Dave is in line to play a senior role in a potential campaign,” Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell told Fox News. “Dave is one of the most respected political strategists in the country and his expertise and leadership will be critical to helping Governor Bush outline his vision for expanding opportunity for all Americans in the coming months.”
Former Romney donors also told The Associated Press they’re now moving toward Bush.
The donors, in interviews with The Associated Press, said they see in Bush what they liked about Romney in 2012, the capacity to serve successfully as president, but also something Romney could not muster over two campaigns: the personality and senior staff needed to win the White House.
“I’ve got great respect for Gov. Romney, and I busted my buns for him,” said Chicago investor Craig Duchossois, whose wife contributed $250,000 to a pro-Romney super PAC while he collected tens of thousands more for Romney’s last campaign. “But I have turned the page.”
The defections to Bush do not, as of yet, appear so definitive as to keep Romney from the race.
There are many free agents among the major GOP donors, each with the ability to contribute personally and collect from others the hundreds of millions needed to run a modern presidential campaign.
Several veterans of GOP politics also told the AP this week they feel that all of the major candidates — Romney, Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker among them — would be able to raise the money needed to compete in a GOP primary campaign that may feature as many as two dozen contenders.
But hesitation from some Romney loyalists and outright defection by others will make his path to the nomination 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.
Romney, meanwhile, plans to update supporters Friday about his plans for 2016.
The former governor of Massachusetts jumped back into the presidential discussion on Jan. 10, when he surprised a small group of former donors at a meeting in New York by telling them he was eyeing a third run for the White House.
In the days since, Romney has made calls to former fundraisers, staff and supporters, and given a few speeches in which he outlined his potential vision for another campaign. “I’m thinking about how I can help the country,” he told hundreds of students Wednesday night at Mississippi State University.
He also took shots at Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is expected to run in 2016. Romney’s attention to poverty issues already has drawn him back into a rhetorical fight with Obama, in flashbacks to 2012.
Speaking to Democrats in Philadelphia on Thursday, Obama said, “We’ve got a former presidential candidate on the other side who suddenly is just deeply concerned about poverty. That’s great. Let’s go. Come on.”
He added: “Let’s do something about it. I am glad that their rhetoric at least has shifted. But let’s now make sure that the policies match up with the rhetoric.”
Romney responded on Twitter. “Mr. Obama, wonder why my concern about poverty? The record number of poor in your term, and your record of failure to remedy,” he wrote.
Fox News’ Serafin Gomez and The Associated Press contributed to this report.