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SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney is eyeing a third run for the White House and will get in the race in the coming months if he doesn't like how the GOP field is looking, his longtime friend Kem Gardner said Monday.
"I know exactly what Mitt's going to do," Gardner, a real estate developer who helped bring Romney to Utah to lead the 2002 Winter Olympics, told KSL News. "I think over the next few months, a lot of things will happen."
But Spencer Zwick, who raised $1 billion for Romney's 2012 campaign, said the decision is a personal one for Romney and isn't going to be dependent on how any other Republican in the race is doing.
"I don't believe Mitt Romney is going to make a decision to run or not based on who's doing well or who's not," said Zwick, so close to Romney he's been called his sixth son.
Even if former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush appears to be headed for the GOP nomination, Romney could still get in the race because, Zwick said, his decision will be "based on whether he wants to do it again."
Making the decision
Gardner, however, said Romney is watching to see how the other potential Republican candidates fare, especially Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, before deciding whether to run again after losses in 2008 and 2012.
"He's not making any decision right now," Gardner said. "He feels he needs to wait and see what candidates come out and how they're received, and how much support they have. He does not want to see this race go to the Democrats."
Romney's decision hinges on who is shaping up to be the party's potential nominee, Gardner said.
"If it's Ted Cruz that's the candidate, he's in. If it's Jeb Bush, he's probably not," Gardner said.
If it's Ted Cruz that's the candidate, he's in. If it's Jeb Bush, he's probably not.
–Kem Gardner, longtime Romney friend
He said Romney doesn't want to cost fellow moderate Republicans Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie support at this point in the race.
That changes, Gardner said, "if it doesn't look like they can do it."
For now, though, Gardner said Romney, who ran in 2008 and was the GOP nominee in 2012, is "not ruling it out, and he's not ruling it in."
Zwick said Romney is getting plenty of encouragement to run, both from the donors who funded his previous campaigns, as well as those who now wished he'd beaten President Barack Obama.
"I hope he does. So do many others. That doesn't mean he will. But there are many people who are hopeful," Zwick said. "Mitt Romney is too much of a patriot to just concede the presidency to the Democrats."
Romney led a list of 23 potential GOP 2016 candidates in a Zogby Analytics poll released on Dec. 24. Fourteen percent of likely Republican voters polled nationwide backed Romney, compared with 12 percent for Bush and 3 percent for Cruz.
And while a new CNN poll released Sunday showed Bush, who recently announced he is "actively exploring" running for president, well ahead of the field with 23 percent, Romney wasn't included as an option.
A unique position
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said many of Romney's past backers are waiting to see what he'll do. But, he said, they won't wait forever.
"The normal timing pressures don't apply as much to him because of his dedicated donor base and his nearly 100 percent name ID," Jowers said.
Still, other candidates are going to be looking for money, he said.
"In spite of Mitt's advantages in money and name recognition, there is going to be an increasingly intense pressure on donors," Jowers said. "Certainly, the longer he waits, the more difficult it becomes to keep all of his supporters in his corral."
Jowers estimated Romney has between three and six months before his big-money contributors start committing to other candidates.
Tim Hagle, a political science professor at the University of Iowa and an active Republican, also said Romney's name recognition gives him a little more time to get into the race.
"I think it would also be to his benefit to wait longer. If he got in too early, he would seem too eager and people would be turned off," Hagle said. "It may be better if Mitt bides his time and waits for there to be a call for him from the public."
In Iowa, traditionally the first state to cast votes in the presidential race, candidates seeking their party's nomination in 2016 are expected to start campaigning there shortly after the new year begins.
Christie, along with Cruz and other conservative Republicans including Utah Sen. Mike Lee, are set to appear at the Iowa Freedom Summit in January, sponsored by Citizens United and Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.
Why consider a third run?
Hagle said he was surprised to hear Romney is considering running again.
"All the things he said publicly before suggested he was going to sit this one out," Hagle said.
Romney has said repeatedly that he is not interested in making another White House run.
Romney may be responding now to the support shown in the polls, Hagle said.
"I could see that if he's got a lot of people whispering in his ear, 'We really need you,'" he said. "If nobody seems strong on the Republican side, there's going to be a certain understandable inclination toward, 'Maybe I do need to get in again.'"
Gardner offered a different reason for Romney's interest.
"Mitt is so restless," he said. "It was fine during the (2014) Senate campaigns because he went to 27 states" to campaign for GOP candidates. "He really felt like he had something to do."
It's different now that the midterm elections that saw Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate are over, and Romney, along with his wife, Ann, author of a family cookbook, are spending more time at their homes in Utah.
"He's here without a rudder and getting restless," Gardner said. "There's only so many cookbooks you can write."