Mitt Romney's high-powered gathering

Mitt Romney's high-powered gathering

POSTED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 5:35pm

UPDATED: Thursday, June 12, 2014 - 5:44pm

Mitt Romney can still draw a crowd.

Some top supporters and donors from the former Massachusetts governor's two presidential campaigns are gathering startingThursday for Romney's retreat in Park City, Utah.

They'll be joined by a bunch of political leaders who may hope to follow in Romney's footsteps by winning the Republican presidential nomination.

This is the third year in a row that Romney has hosted the event, which is being held at the upscale Stein Ericksen Lodge at the Deer Valley Resort. The first came came during the 2012 presidential campaign as the then-GOP nominee was facing off against President Barack Obama.

"Governor Romney plays a large role in shaping this conference," Spencer Zwick told CNN.

Zwick, Romney's former campaign finance chairman, joined Beth Myers, another longtime Romney top adviser, in assisting Romney in putting together an interesting mix of leaders not just from political world. Among those attending: Former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.

"It's a collection of people who have been supporters, who are interested in talking about issues facing the nation," said Zwick, who added that the theme of the conference is American leadership at home and abroad.

Top donors courted by potential 2016'ers

But as it did last year, the gathering will include some possible 2016 GOP White House hopefuls. Speaking at this year's conference are Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Romney's running mate in 2012, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate.

Two other possible contenders, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, were invited but could not attend.

But it's not just Republicans.

Fomer Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, who is mulling a bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, will also address the gathering. Zwick says Romney got to know Schweitzer when they were both serving as governors and they became friends.

"We thought it was important to have his perspective from the Democratic side," Zwick added.

The event will include a series of panels and speeches (which are closed to the media) that will focus on American competitiveness and the country's role as a leader around the globe.

But some political topics will also be on the agenda. One of the panels focusing on the GOP's struggles with female and minority voters is scheduled to include GOP Gov. Susanna Martinez of New Mexico, Republican congressional candidate Mia Love of Utah, and GOP strategist and CNN contributor Ana Navarro.

Separate from the group events, the potential presidential candidates will be able to spend some time with Romney's former donors, who are some of the most influential bundlers in the party.

Zwick said the possible White House hopefuls are encouraged to meet with the donors, adding "it happened last year, it will happen again this year."

Park City, nestled in the Wasatch Mountains just east of Salt Lake City, is an outdoor mecca for both winter sports and summer activities. Those attending the retreat will be able to mountain bike, hike, or even horseback ride with Romney, who has long ties to the area and owns a vacation home at Deer Valley.

Romney's new role

Zwick says "the common denominator for everyone attending the conference" is Romney, who Zwick says arguably has more influence now on the GOP and on national issues than he had when he was running for president.

Romney stayed far from the political spotlight following his bruising defeat to Obama. But starting with last year's Park City summit, and last summer, when he headlined a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party, he's been getting more involved in shaping the future of his party and guiding the national conversation.

"By now, endorsing GOP candidates who have stood proudly with him over the last several years, the governor is sending a clear message that he remains an essential Republican leader in 2014," veteran New Hampshire Republican strategist Jim Merrill recently told CNN.

With the two living former Republican presidents, George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, both staying far from the political conversation, Romney has begun to fill the void.

"Mitt Romney is the most prominent and engaged elder statesman the GOP has on the national stage right now," added Merrill, who was a top adviser to Romney in the Granite State in his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns.

Those close to Romney also add that his focus is helping others rather than polishing his legacy.

"The governor is the same guy he's always been. He wants to make a difference where and when he can," said Todd Cranney, the 2012 Romney campaign's deputy political director.

"He wants to help friends who helped him in the past. But he also wants to be helpful to the Republican Party and to try and get the country back on track."

And Romney now seems to have the winning touch, as the candidates he's backed in the primaries - such as Joni Ernst in Iowa, Monica Wheby in Oregon, Neel Kashkari in California, and Rep. Mike Simpson in Idaho - are winning their contests. 

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