By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Leading potential Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, who are engaged in a behind-the-scenes competition for dollars and support among party loyalists, are to meet in Utah on Thursday.
A Bush spokeswoman, Kristy Campbell, said the former Florida governor is "looking forward to catching up with Governor Romney" on Thursday and that the meeting has long been scheduled.
Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, announced he is seriously considering a third presidential campaign last week, about a month after Bush declared he is actively considering a candidacy.
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.
The Utah meeting takes place as many potential candidates prepare to trek to Iowa for the Iowa Freedom Summit, a forum organized by Iowa Republican Representative Steve King. A variety of potential candidates are to speak there in Des Moines on Saturday.
Both Bush, the brother of former President George W. Bush and son of former President George H. W. Bush, and Romney are competing for support from the establishment part of the Republican Party.
While the specific reason for the meeting was not given, the session will give the two men a chance to take a measure of each's intentions when it comes to 2016. It was scheduled before Romney made his desire for a third run public.
"I'd say this is a highly unusual move because these are two potential presidential contenders," Republican strategist Ron Bonjean said of the meeting. "The fact that they are meeting is significant because it could lead to some decisions on the future of their candidacies." (Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Paul Tait and Tom Brown)