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Two of the Republican Party's top presidential talents met privately in Utah on Thursday, raising speculation they may have cut some sort of political deal. But those close to Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush said instead it was simply a cordial, political conversation between friends and potential rivals.
"It has absolutely no strategic implications. Period," said former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, a close adviser to Romney. "I think it is two people who know each other, who like each other, who have common interests and who realize they may be in an awkward place soon."
Bush hopped a Delta flight from Washington, D.C., to Salt Lake City International Airport, where a KUTV reporter talked to him. The former Florida governor said the meeting wouldn't be uncomfortable.
"Nah, not at all," Bush said. "I respect him a lot. I admire him a lot. He is a great American. I look forward to seeing him."
Asked what they would talk about, Bush said: "The future."
After the meeting at an undisclosed location, possibly one of Romney's two homes in the state, Bush aides wouldn't shed any light on what was said.
"Governor Bush enjoyed visiting with Governor Romney and has great respect for him," offered Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell.
Romney was governor of Massachusetts before he ran for president in 2008. In 2012, he won the party's nomination, then lost to President Barack Obama. Romney surprised the political world two weeks ago by saying he's considering a third presidential campaign.
His move was spurred by Bush, the brother of President George W. Bush and the son of President George H.W. Bush, who created an exploratory committee in December and began raising money, including from some of Romney's former supporters.
Romney has made a flurry of phone calls to those donors to shore up support, and started calling political allies as well, telling them that he is seriously considering the race.
He's also started delivering speeches, including one in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, that go over his policy agenda, ranging from a global response to climate change to tackling intergenerational poverty.
Leavitt, who helped Romney prepare for a potential presidential transition in 2012, said it is not uncommon for potential presidential candidates from the same party to talk to one another.
"I know Mitt has had similar types of conversations with other candidates," he said. "I know he has done this before and [the other candidates] have done the same thing."
Leavitt, who didn't attend Thursday's meeting, said he does not know how long Romney may take to decide whether to launch a third campaign, but added "I would be surprised if it was quick."
Bush and Romney are seen as candidates fighting for many of the same donors and supporters. They are establishment Republicans with deep business ties.
Leavitt, who served in the George W. Bush administration, described the two as friends, but it appears that friendship is distant.
Bush offered Romney little help in his 2012 or 2008 campaign, and it appears the ties have become strained in recent months. Bush has been critical of the campaign Romney ran in 2012. Romney has privately questioned whether Bush could withstand attacks on his ties to venture capital, which would be similar to the ones Democrats lobbed against Romney.
Tribune reporter Thomas Burr contributed to this article.