DEER VALLEY — Mitt Romney said Friday he's not second-guessing his decision not to run again for president in 2016 to make way for a candidate with a stronger shot at winning the White House for Republicans.
"I didn’t make the decision not to run again because I didn’t like it or I didn’t think I was up for the task," Romney told reporters at his annual "Experts and Enthusiasts" event that brings candidates and contributors to this ski resort community.
The Republican Party's 2012 nominee said he realized "someone who was not as negatively defined as I was in some circles and someone who was the next political generation had a better chance of getting the White House than I did."
Just who fits that bill, however, remains to be seen. Romney, who also ran in 2008, said without naming names that there are "six or seven or eight" GOP candidates that he can agree with on major issues.
Six Republican hopefuls are at this year's three-day summit that ends Saturday: Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Hewlett Packer CEO Carly Fiorina.
Several top-tier GOP contenders aren't at the summit headquartered at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who is in Europe, and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul.
So far, 10 Republicans have announced they're running and five others are expected to get in the race. Romney said he doesn't plan on endorsing a GOP candidate until the party chooses its nominee.
"Up until that point, I don't expect to be becoming associated with any one campaign. They're going to have a long process to battle it out," he said, allowing for the possibility of stepping in sooner if a candidate he can support is under attack.
It's too soon to predict, he said, "whether it's going to be a long, drawn-out process with 10 people that will go until May or it's going to narrow down to two or three in a big hurry, and so what my role might be is probably going to be up in the air."
Romney said he doesn't "look back and second-guess" his decision in January not to run and is "looking forward to playing what limited role a guy who lost can play in the presidential contest."
His 2012 campaign manager, Matt Rhoades, said he expects Romney to stay neutral in the race for a long time, "but once he gets behind a candidate, they'll be smart to use him as a surrogate" on the campaign trail.
Rhoades said Romney can play a big role in keeping the pressure on the Democrat Party's leading candidate, former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, especially during the presidential primary.
In an after-dinner speech at a neighboring ski lodge, Romney criticized both Clinton and President Barack Obama for what he labeled the nation's worst-ever foreign policy.
Politico dubbed the summit "the 'Club Med' for GOP megadonors," noting the activities available to the 250 attendees included an early morning Pilates class with Bloomberg Politics co-managing editor Mark Halperin and Romney's wife, Ann.
Rubio joked about being hit with "negative attacks" as a result of calls made during a flag football game he led Friday morning. Graham warned that anyone joining him at 6 a.m. for skeet shooting Saturday did so at their own peril.
But the main event was the competition among the presidential contenders for attention from the contributors who had backed Romney for president, as well as the national media outlets gathered, including CNN and The New York Times.
Spencer Zwick, who raised nearly $1 billion for Romney's 2012 campaign as his national finance chairman, said the summit attendees accounted for hundreds of millions of dollars of that total.
With Romney's decision earlier this year not to get in the race, that money is up for grabs. Zwick said Romney's donors could leave the summit sold on a new Republican candidate for 2016.
"That’s certainly part of the pitch from these candidates," Zwick said. "They get to make their case to the donors. That’s one of the motivations Mitt has in bringing these people together is that they get easy access."
Graham told reporters he was grateful to Romney for the chance to mingle with "people of means" who can help finance his campaign.
"There are some people here who are political givers who are looking for a candidate to back so it's important to me to be in front of them," he said. "I've had a lot of people come up and say, 'I like what you've had to say.'"
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, who headed up planning for a Romney White House in the 2012 race, suggested participants were surprised by the strength of the Republican field.
"It's a great turnout of candidates, and I think people generally are coming away thinking, 'This is a stronger group than I understood it to be,'" Leavitt said. "It's a strong field. It's a very strong field."
Each candidate gave a speech and took questions from the audience assembled in a large conference room at the ski resort, and some also held news conferences and gave individual interviews.
"I think they're focused on issues," Zwick said. "But also, look, there's a campaign gearing up so there's going to be a natural kind of jockeying and positioning. We expect that. But by and large, there hasn't been any bashing of each other."
There was some, starting with Walker, the first White House contender to speak Friday. Walker, who has not made his run official, said the GOP senators in the race "have yet to win anything and accomplish anything."
Christie, who also has yet to announce his candidacy, was even more blunt in his criticism of senators, singled out Paul for his fight against the Patriot Act reauthorization.
The New Jersey governor also had some harsh words for the GOP.
"Performance matters," Christie said, warning that if the Republican Party loses the White House for a third time in 2016, it will be on "the edge of irrelevance."
Fiorina will address the summit Saturday. She is also headlining the Salt Lake County GOP's annual summer fundraiser Saturday night with tickets ranging from $200 to $15,000.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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