After a year of denying that he would seek the presidency a third time, Mitt Romney announced Friday afternoon that he is considering running in 2016, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The former Massachusetts governor and 2012 Republican nominee reportedly told GOP donors at a Manhattan event that he's thinking about launching a bid. Though he didn't say when he'd make a final decision, he noted his concern over the economy and foreign policy as reasons he put running back on the table.
Just how much has he denied interest in running again in the past? Last January, Romney was asked by The New York Times if he was interested in another go. He said: "Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no."
But GOP voters have seemed eager for the 2012 nominee to enter the presidential ring for the third time. A December CNN poll of voters nationally found that 20 percent have him as their first choice, giving him a big cushion in the crowded Republican field. In the early-primary state of New Hampshire, a November poll gave him an even stronger lead on his possible competition.
Romney's announcement comes on the heels of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's series of signs he will also seek the nomination in 2016. After writing on his Facebook page in December that he would "actively explore" a run, Bush launched his own leadership PAC, Right to Rise, likely to prove his fundraising might to potential primary opponents. And it even appears that Romney made his decision while Bush was visiting Boston, Romney's home turf.
Romney's entrance into the race, however, could put top establishment donors in a difficult position. Brian Ballard, a Florida-based fundraiser and top Romney ally in 2012, says a Romney and Bush race might be awkward, but it is better than the alternative: a race devoid of competitive GOP candidates.
"A lot of folks in the donor class really know that he would have been a great president," Ballard said of Romney. "The only person who can really compete for the Jeb Bush donors is Mitt Romney. It eliminates all of the other folks if they both run."
While welcome news for top establishment strategists, Romney's receptiveness to running for the White House a third time was a surprise to some.
"I had received no indication that he wanted to get the band back together again," said Tom Rath, a New Hampshire-based senior adviser to Romney in 2012.
Rath said Romney's statement leaves the door open and will put a freeze on a lot of top talent in New Hampshire who will wait to see if Romney jumps into the race before aligning with other candidates.
One top Republican adviser said that with such a healthy slate of candidates this cycle, he found the news "a little strange."
"This could get a little ugly," he told National Journal. "There's some sense of, 'You've had your shot, and it's time to just exit gracefully.' "
This post has been updated with more context and additional reporting.
Matt Berman contributed to this article
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