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Jeb Bush's early jump into the hunt for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination isn't likely to jog loose a decision from Mitt Romney.

The failed 2012 GOP standard bearer is being courted by many of his old backers to get into a race that has failed to define a clear favorite. He's doing well in polls and campained in 27 states for Republican candidates in the recent election cycle. But he has emphasized he is not currently a candidate.

The question is whether he will be.

His old team in Michigan, where Romney grew up and where his father George was a popular governor, says he is in no rush to make a decision on a third presidential bid (he sought and lost the GOP nomination in 2008).

"He's waiting to see whether Bush and (New Jersey Gov. Chris) Christie get traction," says a major Romney fundraiser. "If they falter, he may get in — if he can convince his wife."

Though he didn't win the state, Michigan played a major role in Romney's campaign. He raised a lot of money here, and his extended network of family and friends in the state filled key campaign spots.

That Mitt-en brain trust is divided on whether Romney should try again. Some are already drifting away to other contenders — many non-family members are ready to sign on with former Florida Gov. Bush, the candidate they see as most like Romney in political outlook, or Christie, the one they think can ignite the electorate.

"There's some feeling that as a two-time loser, Mitt's time is past," another donor said. "He's already been defined. It will be hard to change those perceptions."

While most hopefuls are expected shortly after the new year to signal their interest, while they test their fundraising abilities, Romney perhaps has more time.

He has strong name recognition because of his past runs, and his national fundraising mechanism is still intact. Michigan friends say they don't expect a decision from Romney until late spring or early summer.

If that's true, he may run the risk of waiting too long.

GOP funders, including the Michigan Romney backers, want to avoid a repeat of 2012, when a legion of Republican primary entrants beat the sap out of each other for nearly a year and were worn out and short of funds by the time the general campaign began.

The party is determined to push the start of the primary season — after Iowa and New Hampshire — into March, and to drastically cut back the number of debates. This time, Republican leaders would like to settle on a single consensus candidate who can conserve resources for the general contest, presumably against Hillary Clinton.

The Michigan money sees the best hope in either Bush or Christie, discounting for now Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and a host of other congressmen and governors said to be weighing a run.

If either Bush or Christie — or someone else — is anointed this winter by the fundraisers, Romney may not be welcome in the race, even if he should decide he wants to try for the White House one more time.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2064

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