Private retreat for Mitt Romney supporters focuses on country, not party

Published: Thursday, June 6 2013 6:25 p.m. MDT

Josh Romney walks out of the Stein Eriksen Lodge, where his father, Mitt Romney, is hosting a private retreat, at Deer Valley in Park City on Thursday, June 6, 2013.

Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

DEER VALLEY — "Are you on the list?"

Staff posted at the bottom of the driveway leading to the posh Stein Eriksen Lodge on Thursday flipped through pages of names on a clipboard and turned away anyone who hadn't been invited to participate in a private retreat hosted by Mitt Romney.

Inside, some 200 big-money donors to Romney's 2012 presidential bid spent the day listening to speakers that included President Barack Obama's top campaign strategist, David Axelrod.

The participants, many of whom are also investors in Solamere, a private equity firm founded by Romney's son Tagg, each paid $5,000 to attend the retreat, dubbed "Experts & Enthusiasts."

On Friday, they'll hear from some potential 2016 White House contenders from the GOP, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate.

Josh Romney, one of two of Romney's sons who live in Utah, said his father opened the two days of discussions by raising a wide range of topics, from global warming to immigration to international competitiveness.

On immigration, Josh Romney said both his father and Meg Whitman, president and CEO of Hewlett-Packard and a former gubernatorial candidate in California, spoke of the need for more visas for foreign workers with highly specialized technical skills.

But he said there was no focus on the boosting the GOP's appeal to Hispanic voters, or making other changes to improve Republican chances of winning back the White House in 2016.

"We didn't really talk about the party or how the party's going to improve. It's really a focus on the country," Josh Romney said, "what we need to do as a country to remain competitive and strong."

The retreat participants were asked to rank a list of issues that should be national priorities that included family values, immigration, health care, global warming and corporate competitiveness, he said.

Not everything was so serious. Supermodel Cindy Crawford led participants on an early morning hike, Josh Romney said, and Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, talked about happiness and how it relates to free enterprise.

Mitt Romney held a similar retreat in Deer Valley a year ago for some 700 donors that was called a "rock concert" for Republicans featuring top GOP strategist Karl Rove, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

That event attracted national media attention, with network camera crews poised to talk to anyone venturing outside the Chateaux, another exclusive Deer Valley resort that's not quite as secluded as the Stein Eriksen Lodge.

One Park City resident joked that Romney chose the lodge this year because he doesn't need the publicity now that the election's over. An employee at the Chateaux, quiet except for someone cleaning the lobby, said she missed the excitement.

Mitt Romney did sit down for interviews with national media outlets Thursday, telling CNN's Gloria Borger that he appreciated going back to focusing on family life, with "household chores you have, with the privacy you enjoy."

He said that it was "hard going into the campaign. It's a new experience and a thrill, but at the same time, it's a real challenge."

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