WASHINGTON Just as Republican John McCain was unloading on his Democratic presidential rival Friday, he was offering warm, effusive words for once bitter foe Mitt Romney.
And Romney, the mega-millionaire former Republican governor of Massachusetts, was pledging to help McCain's presidential campaign financially and in any other way. To underscore the point, Romney has decided not to spend time raising money to pay back the $44.6 million he lent his failed presidential campaign.
"Mitt Romney's priority right now is raising money for other Republicans, including John McCain, and not trying to recoup the money he put into his own race," Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said Friday.
At a Detroit fundraiser Friday that included a number of former Romney donors, McCain heaped praise on Romney, a man he once ridiculed by suggesting that his answer to immigration was "to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn."
Times have changed. McCain is the GOP's presidential nominee-in-waiting, and Romney is being mentioned as a possible running mate.
"In case you've been missing it, Mitt has been doing such a great job lately on my behalf," McCain told donors at the Detroit Athletic Club. "I said only half in jest he's doing a better job for me than he did for himself."
He noted that Romney has been appearing as a McCain surrogate on television interview shows, "not only defending, but standing up for the things that we believe in, are important to the future of the country."
At the same venue and in a television commercial unveiled Friday McCain had chillier words for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, sharply criticizing his stance on the war in Iraq.
McCain also reminded his audience that Romney and his wife, Ann, spent a weekend with McCain and other potential running mates at his home in Sedona, Ariz.
"And I knew Mitt, and I knew what an outstanding individual he is and what a wonderful family person, but I hadn't had the chance to get to know Ann." McCain noted that she is "battling a disease" multiple sclerosis and that "she is a woman of courage and beauty and grace."
Romney's brother Scott is McCain's Michigan co-chairman. "Scott, I thank you for being here and I thank you for the entire Romney family," McCain said.
Romney could be a significant financial asset for McCain. His loan to himself aside, Romney was the most successful Republican fundraiser while he was still in the race, collecting $65 million for his presidential campaign.
With Romney on the ticket, McCain could use his financial muscle to help raise money for the Republican National Committee's presidential effort, which is separate from the McCain campaign. McCain has pledged to accept $84 million in public funds during the fall campaign, a step that would prevent a running mate such as Romney from raising or lending money for a McCain-Romney campaign.