Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, is eyeing a third run for the White House. (Charles Krupa/AP)

By Robert Costa, Philip Rucker and Karen Tumulty
January 12, 2015 at 9:37 PM

Mitt Romney is moving quickly to reassemble his national political network, calling former aides, donors and other supporters over the weekend and on Monday in a concerted push to signal his seriousness about possibly launching a 2016 presidential campaign.

Romney’s message, as he told one senior Republican, was that he “almost certainly will” make what would be his third bid for the White House. His aggressive outreach came as Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) — Romney’s 2012 vice presidential running mate and the newly installed chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — announced Monday that he would not seek the presidency in 2016.

Romney’s activity indicates that his declaration of interest Friday to a group of 30 donors in New York was more than the release of a trial balloon. Instead, it was the start of a deliberate effort by the 2012 nominee to carve out space for himself in an emerging 2016 field also likely to include former Florida governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

Romney has worked the phones over the past few days, calling an array of key allies to discuss his potential 2016 campaign. Among them was Ryan, whom Romney phoned over the weekend to inform him personally of his plans to probably run. Ryan was encouraging, people with knowledge of the calls said.

Other Republicans with whom Romney spoke recently include Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman, former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, former Missouri senator Jim Talent and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah).

In the conversations, Romney said he is intent on running to the right of Bush, who also is working vigorously to court donors and other party establishment figures for a 2016 bid. Romney has tried to assure conservatives that he shares their views on immigration and tax policy — and that should he enter the race, he will not forsake party orthodoxy.

On New Year’s Eve, Romney welcomed Laura Ingraham, the firebrand conservative and nationally syndicated talk-radio host, to his ski home in Deer Valley, Utah. Romney served a light lunch to Ingraham and her family as they spent more than an hour discussing politics and policy, according to sources familiar with the meeting.

“He was relaxed, reflective and was interested in hearing my thoughts on the American working class,” Ingraham said in an e-mail Monday. “He was fully engaged and up to speed on everything happening on [the] domestic and international front. To me, it didn’t seem like he was content to be just a passive player in American politics.”

Romney’s undertaking to re-engage and pursue anew the GOP’s leading financial and political players began Friday, when he told a private gathering of donors, “I want to be president.” He also told them that his wife, Ann, was “very encouraging” of another campaign.

Romney is considering attending this week’s meeting of the Republican National Committee in San Diego and is working on a new message about economic empowerment, advisers said.

“He’s a lot more focused in these calls on developing a path to victory and talking through a message, rather than talking about money,” said Spencer Zwick, Romney’s 2012 national finance chairman. “Mitt Romney has proven that he can raise the money.”

This comes as Bush — another favorite of the Republican elite — is holding meetings with party leaders and financiers as he explores his campaign. Bush and Romney have overlapping political circles.

Many of Romney’s past supporters may feel torn — not only between him and Bush but also among Christie, Walker, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and other Republicans who are weighing a run. Some already have publicly aligned with Bush and others.

“They’re competing hard and it’s going to get complicated for Bush,” said former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.). “But Romney still has to prove that he has the ability to reach out to ordinary, hardworking people and emote — smiling with one eye and crying with the other.”

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