Romney's Deer Valley retreat a reunion for supporters like Paul Ryan, Chris Christie, Rand Paul
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News
DEER VALLEY — For former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, the "Experts & Enthusiasts" retreat hosted by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney that ended Friday was an opportunity to reunite with some of the campaign's other key supporters.
"I got to see a lot of people with whom I spent a great deal of time for a year and a half," said Leavitt, who hit the campaign trail with Romney and headed up the team preparing for what was hoped would be a transition to a GOP White House.
Mingling at the retreat with the donors who helped finance Romney's unsuccessful bid to unseat President Barack Obama "was a bit of a reunion atmosphere for me," Leavitt said. "We had a chance to just see each other and give each other a hug."
The three-term governor, who also served in former President George W. Bush's cabinet, was among the final speakers at the private retreat held in the Stein Eriksen Lodge, along with a trio of potential Republican candidates for president in 2016.
None of the three — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul or Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, Romney's running mate — made any public appearances or comments while in Utah.
"They all did a good job," Leavitt said of their presentations to the 200 or so big-money donors and investors in Solamere Capital, a private equity firm founded by Romney's son Tagg. "They were all very effective and interesting."
There were "not really" any surprises from Christie, Paul or Ryan, Leavitt said.
"They were, I'm sure, interested to come and have a chance to meet people," he said, "and I think that was all accomplished."
As for how much enthusiasm they generated for their possible presidential bids, Leavitt said "there was probably more interest on the part of the political figures in the people who were there."
Participants each paid $5,000 to attend the retreat, which kicked off Wednesday evening with a barbecue attended by Gov. Gary Herbert, as well as celebrity guests, including supermodel Cindy Crawford.
All day Thursday and through lunch on Friday, a parade of speakers led discussions on a range of topics, such as former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., and former Clinton White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles, who pitched their budget reduction plan.
There were even a few Democrats on the list of speakers, including Obama's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod. Axelrod and his wife, Susan, were on the agenda to speak about the group they founded to help fight epilepsy.
Leavitt said he recounted the "Readiness Project" intended to ready Romney to begin the transition to the presidency as soon as the votes were counted last November, as well as health care issues. Leavitt currently heads a health care consulting firm.
"It was a group of highly interested people and it gave them an opportunity to hear from a group of people who have unique experiences and/or points of view," he said, to provide perspective on the "problems our country wrestles with."
Although the group was asked to rank the top issues facing the country from a list that included family values, health care and immigration, Leavitt said he did not believe the intent of the retreat was to reach conclusions on policy issues.
University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said it was unclear what, if anything, would come from the retreat other than an opportunity for potential candidates to meet with GOP donors.
"It sounded like, 'Let's have a reunion and get the band back together for one last number.' I don't know where it goes from here," Scala said. "It seems more like an opportunity to mingle."
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