PARK CITY — U.S. Senate candidate Mitt Romney promised the wealthy and influential business and policy leaders gathered for his annual political retreat that "campaigns are off limits the next couple of days."
His welcoming speech Thursday evening on a sunny deck of the Stein Eriksen Lodge in Deer Valley included a reference to the growing national deficit, a theme in his run for the seat held by retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
But Romney insisted he's "taking a break from the campaign" for the event known as the Experts and Enthusiasts Summit that continues through Saturday, even though he faces state Rep. Mike Kennedy, R-Alpine, in the June 26 GOP primary.
"You won't be solicited in any way, shape or form. That's the good news. No need to hold on to your wallet or hide it in your room," Romney joked, then acknowledged that he "loved the opportunity to campaign" and be involved in public service.
The Republican 2012 presidential nominee offered some political predictions, saying he believes the GOP will keep control of the House and Senate in this year's midterm elections, and that President Donald Trump will be re-elected "solidly" in 2020.
"I think that growth and the higher incomes that people are seeing mean that Republicans are going to do just fine in November," Romney said. "I know a lot of pundits don't believe that. I think we will."
Although Romney was one of Trump's harshest critics during the 2016 Republican presidential primary, calling him a fraud and phony in a speech at the University of Utah, he said the president shouldn't have any trouble winning another term.
The president "will be re-nominated by my party easily and I think he'll be re-elected solidly," Romney said, in part because Democrats "are likely to nominate someone who is really out of the mainstream of American thought and will make it easier for a president who's presiding over a growing economy."
His nearly 20-minute speech before the group that includes many of the big-money donors to his presidential bids also touched on other topics, including the same concerns about the debt Romney raises in a campaign commercial.
So much borrowing, Romney said, makes it difficult for the United States to be competitive globally, even against countries like Russia and China that have aging and shrinking populations.
Russia, Romney said, is "actively involved in weakening" democracies around the world by interfering in elections. He mentioned possible Russian interference in Italy's recent elections, but not Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
Gov. Gary Herbert also spoke, describing how former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, set to address the retreat Friday, had asked about Utah's success as a state.
Bloomberg's news agency, the governor said, even did a story about how Utah "keeps the American dream alive." Herbert's advice to the retreat audience was to "look to the states" for solutions to the nation's problems.
Much of the rest of the retreat is off-limits to the media, but will also include presentations by retiring House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., Romney's 2012 running mate; former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, a rumored presidential candidate; and comedian Seth Rogen, who will be part of a look at combating Alzheimer's disease.
Unlike past retreats that have attracted a slew of GOP presidential contenders and generated debate over Trump's election, this year's event is intended to be more low-key politically because of Romney's race.
Former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz, now a Fox News contributor, said he had been scheduled to speak alongside Ryan on Saturday but has to leave early that morning for a network appearance in Washington, D.C.
Chaffetz, who served as a key surrogate for Romney on the 2012 presidential campaign trail, said he has not endorsed in the Utah Senate race, but believes Romney will be the state's next U.S. senator.
"He's going to have a very powerful voice in Washington, D.C.," Chaffetz said. "He's not a no-name, first-time senator. He comes in with some real clout and gravitas that will bode well for Utah."
Romney, whose campaign staff has stressed the retreat should not be seen as a campaign event, is not expected to do interviews with national media during the summit, even though a few outlets, including Politico and Fox News, sent reporters.15 comments on this story
Meanwhile, Kennedy's spokeswoman, Cindie Quintana, said he campaigned Thursday at a senior center in Sandy and later at a home in Orem. Kennedy has declined to comment on the retreat.
The Democrat in the Senate race, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Jenny Wilson, was headed to Millard and Beaver counties for campaign appearances on Friday and Saturday, including at the Days of the Old West Rodeo in Delta.
"While Romney enjoys his time with the Republican elite, I'll be listening to the concerns of the people of Delta and Milford," Wilson said. "And I'm truly looking forward to it."