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Democrats to speak at Romney retreat in Deer Valley

Published: Friday, April 26 2013 6:28 a.m. MDT

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney

Evan Vucci, The Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has added high-profile Democrats to the list of speakers at an exclusive retreat he's hosting in Deer Valley, including President Barack Obama's top campaign strategist, David Axelrod.

The June retreat is expected to attract big money donors to Park City, many of whom are also investors in Solamere Capital, a private equity firm founded by Romney's son Tagg where Mitt Romney now serves as chairman.

For $5,000 each, retreat participants are expected to spend four days privately discussing what Romney called "key opportunities ahead" in an email, the Boston Globe reported, especially the future of the Republican Party after his loss to Obama.

Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Romney's choice of speakers doesn't mean he's trying to steer the GOP in a more moderate direction.

"It strikes me as just a really interesting collection of people. Mitt has always been kind of the smartest guy in the room and he's intrigued by other smart and interesting people," Jowers said. "He's not walking in with an agenda."

Instead, Jowers said, the retreat is an opportunity "for letting people talk more freely and get a better understanding of the politics and polices of our country and of the Republican Party."

But University of Nevada, Las Vegas political science professor David Damore said bringing in Democrats who can talk about where the GOP went wrong in the last election is "a little bit of a white flag" for Romney.

"This is just the next round in the internal civil war in the party," Damore said. "Romney is obviously trying to reorient it to be more business-friendly and to get away from the social issues."

Romney was hit hard from the right during the presidential primaries for his shifting stands over the years on abortion and other social issues while the Obama campaign focused on portraying him as a ruthless business executive.

Besides Axelrod, now an NBC and MSNBC political analyst after helping lead Obama to victory, Romney has invited Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chairman of the 2012 Democratic National Convention, to speak at the retreat.

Axelrod told the Washington Post he and his wife, Susan, will talk at the retreat about their epilepsy research foundation, telling the Post "we believe our common humanity in coping with disease far outweighs our political differences."

Billed as "Experts and Enthusiasts," the retreat will also feature Republicans who are possible White House candidates in 2016, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc.

The chairman of a bipartisan debt reduction commission, former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, are also scheduled to speak.

Also on the list are American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks, Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman, Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy and Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, a member of the Deseret News Editorial Advisory Board.

Jowers said the list of speakers shows that Romney "remains a very vital part of the political and policymaking universe" post-election. "Occasional events like this continue to make known he's willing to play some role in the future of the party."

That role, Jowers said, will likely be to bring people together to sort out GOP issues.

"People in Utah know better than anyone else that Mitt Romney at his core is a problem solver," Jowers said. "With his business background, obviously the Olympics, and his time as (Massachusetts) governor, he was someone who found solutions."

Damore said many Republican candidates around the country will be facing tough intra-party fights as a result of the recent redistricting and may not want Romney's help on the campaign trail.

"It's hard to see anyone calling him and saying, 'Please come to my campaign event and stump for me,' " Damore said, although the candidates will want access to Romney's fundraising network.

The retreat will be one of the few political events Romney, the former leader of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, has engaged in since his loss. Last month, Romney spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference.

Last summer, Romney also held a retreat in Deer Valley for his key supporters that featured what was described as a Republican "Dream Team," including party strategist Karl Rove and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Email: lisa@deseretnews.com

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