Jeb Bush asks to meet privately with Mitt Romney in Utah: report
Former Florida Republican Governor Jeb Bush speaks at the 2014 National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, DC on Nov. 20, 2014 (AFP)

Leading potential Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush are scheduled to meet privately later this week in Utah, the New York Times reported on Wednesday.

Former Florida governor Bush and 2012 Republican nominee Romney have grabbed recent buzz from operatives and donors aligned with the party's establishment after both said they were exploring possible 2016 presidential bids.

The New York Times, citing two unidentified leading party members, said the session was planned before Romney made a surprise announcement earlier this month to a group of donors that he was weighing a third run for the White House. The paper said Bush had sought the meeting.

Reuters could not independently verify the report. Requests for comment were not immediately returned by representatives for Romney or Bush.

Bush's moves toward a bid have made the path to the White House tougher for potential Republican rivals, including Romney who ran unsuccessfully in 2008 and 2012. Other 2016 hopefuls include New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

In Reuters interviews with Republican members, done after Romney said in San Diego last week he was "seriously considering" a run, few were enthusiastic. Most expressed a wish for him to sit out the race.

Many Republican party members expressed a desperation to win back the White House after two consecutive defeats. Most said they believe Romney would not be the strongest choice in a 2016 race that could see Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait)