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Big Romney donors headed to star-studded retreat this weekend


GRAND RAPIDS, MI -- Some of Mitt Romney's most deep-pocketed donors will flock to Utah for an exclusive gathering this weekend featuring top Republican political figures and strategists.

More than 100 of the GOP's top fundraisers and bundlers will attend the "First National Romney Victory Leadership Retreat," a weekend-long retreat intended to rally, educate and reward the men and women who have been the primary financial backers of the presumptive nominee's campaign thus far.

The attendees will be treated to presentations, briefing and panel discussions featuring an all-star cast of Republican politicians, including several thought to be among Romney's top vice presidential choices.

Among the possible VP contenders a Romney campaign adviser confirmed would be in attendance are former Govs. Tim Pawlenty (MN) and Jeb Bush (FL), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The GOP's last presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain, will also attend, according to Republican sources familiar with the event's schedule.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell will speak at one of the weekend's two major dinners, according to a McDonnell staffer.

The Washington Post has reported that Sen. John Thune, Rep. Paul Ryan -- two other rumored VP short-listers will attend, as will Republican power-broker Karl Rove. NBC News has not independently confirmed this information.

"All the major players of the party will be there," Dallas businessman Ray Washburne, who will attend the retreat, told NBC News. "Its kind of a reunion of all the people who worked hard on the campaign so far."

Washburne is indicative of the type of Republican rainmaker the Romney campaign intends to woo, and reward, at the retreat. The real estate developer, investor and restauranteur headed up a recent Romney fundraiser in Dallas that brought in $3.6 million for the campaign, and has co-chaired Romney's fundraising effort in the Lone Star state after the first candidate he supported -- Pawlenty -- dropped out of the race.

The invitees are primarily those donors who have raised enough money to qualify as national finance committee members, one Romney adviser said.

"The party is all falling in behind the candidate now, and this is kind of the first kind of anointment of Mitt by everyone," Washburne said.

On Saturday, attendees will be briefed by top Romney campaign officials, including political director Rich Beeson, and the famously media-averse campaign manager Matt Rhodes, on the state of the campaign and strategy going forward. That night they will also attend the second of two dinners with the candidate himself.

Attendees at the weekend-long retreat will at gather at a resort hotel in the mountains surrounding Salt Lake city, not far from where Romney first rose to prominence by running the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, and in the state where he still retains a rock star-like political status.

Romney and his guests will be far from the prying eyes of most media. The entire three-day conference is closed to the press, and Romney has no public events in Utah to draw reporters here otherwise. His campaign has refused most official requests for comment on the conference, including several made for this report.

When the conference concludes at the end of the weekend, the campaign will continue with one major question -- likely to be discussed all weekend -- that will remain unanswered: Was the vice presidential nominee among those in attendance?

"That's all anybody wants to know," Washburne said.

NBC's Alex Moe contributed.