(WASHINGTON) — At the end of what would have been his inaugural week, if things had gone differently in November, Mitt Romney and wife Ann attended a luncheon in his honor in Washington, D.C. – just blocks from the White House.
The Romneys were feted by philanthropist Catherine Reynolds and hotel magnate Bill Marriott, Jr. at the J.W. Marriott, where just outside risers set up for the Inaugural parade still stood. The event was under tight security, with red velvet ropes cordoning off the entrance to the hotel and staff questioning people not attending the event about their purposes at the hotel. Media inside the Marriott were asked by security to leave.
Attending the luncheon were donors, senators and old campaign hands. Ohio Sen. Rob Portman, who seemed to be at every stop Romney made in the Buckeye state, attended with his wife Jane. In an interview afterward with ABC News, he called the luncheon an “opportunity for people to thank Mitt and Ann for running.” Portman told ABC News that Romney, Mrs. Romney and Rep. Paul Ryan, who attended with his wife Janna, each spoke to the group.
Portman said salmon was on the menu, but that discussion about the state of the GOP was not.
“It was more about the campaign and [Romney] talked about some of his concerns about what’s going on with the economy and the deficit, but it was again more of an opportunity to see friends and express gratitude,” Portman said, adding Romney did not discuss his future plans.
Another couple leaving the event who did not want to be identified said the luncheon was “great” and that Romney’s speech focused on the direction of the country, and he urged the group to continue their hard work.
Romney’s brother, Scott Romney, also joined the luncheon as did campaign senior adviser Ed Gillespie and campaign adviser and former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., and former Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, R-Texas, were all spotted walking into the hotel.
After the lunch wrapped up, Romney was seen chatting with Collins, Kyl and Hutchison, who even tweeted from the event: “Sitting with Mitt and Ann Romney at a fun lunch of old friends in DC!” And McCain tweeted after the luncheon, “Great lunch with Mitt & Ann Romney today — their remarks were wonderful.”
A photo posted to Instagram Friday showed Romney and his wife carrying their own bags through Reagan National Airport.
Romney has kept a low profile since his loss, although he has popped up everywhere from Disneyland to Costco, from the Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Manny Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas to the White House for lunch with President Obama. Romney skipped the Inauguration earlier this week, making him the first losing candidate to not attend the festivities since Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1989. A former Romney adviser tells ABC News that Romney’s attendance at the luncheon Friday “is really a social visit,” and he will make his voice heard in the future.
“He deliberately did not inject himself into the political discussion between the election and the inauguration while the President was laying out his agenda for a second term,” the adviser said in an e-mail. “But Gov. Romney does care deeply about America and its place in the world and from time to time he will speak out on issues.”
An aide says Romney will be attending the exclusive Alfalfa Club’s annual black tie dinner Saturday night as well.
While leaving the event, Ryan only smiled and remained quiet when ABC News asked how the luncheon went, but he did stop to pose for photos with some people who approached him outside before getting into his green Chevy Tahoe with Wisconsin license plates, driving himself and his wife away – a stark contrast to the security and drivers available to the couple during the campaign.
And as he pulled out of the driveway of the J.W. Marriott, one tourist seemed to mistake the former GOP vice presidential candidate for another 2012 hopeful.
“It’s Rick Santorum!” the tourist shouted.
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