O‘HARA TOWNSHIP, Pennsylvania (Reuters) - They fought bitterly during the Republican presidential primaries, and now nominee-in-waiting Mitt Romney and conservative rival Rick Santorum are trying to make amends.
Well, maybe they aren’t trying that hard.
After 90 minutes of peace talks in Pittsburgh on Friday, Santorum was not ready to endorse Romney, who he has said for months would not be able to defeat Democratic President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.
The meeting, requested by Romney’s campaign, was private and held at the office of a top Santorum aide, John Brabender. No aides were present. Neither were any photographers, so there was no symbolic photo of the pair together.
Aides to both men said little about the meeting - only that Santorum would make no endorsement on Friday. Afterward, Romney made a campaign stop in this town of about 8,800 residents and did not mention Santorum.
“We’ll see what comes out of this meeting,” Santorum spokeswoman Alice Stewart said on MSNBC as her boss, a former Pennsylvania senator, met with Romney. “The Romney campaign asked Rick for this meeting and he was happy to do it.”
Stewart said Santorum “wanted to make sure that the issues and the views and values of social conservatives and the Tea Party conservatives and the true blue-collar conservatives will be included and part of the Romney campaign. He’s going there as the voice of these people.”
She said both Santorum and Romney did agree on one thing: that conservative Republicans should rally together to defeat Obama in November.
Romney’s well-financed, well-organized campaign has been shadowed by his struggles to draw in the type of dedicated, conservative voters who made Santorum a surprisingly strong player in the Republican primaries.
On Thursday, Romney had picked up the endorsement of another conservative former rival: Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann, who like Santorum had cast Romney as a moderate with little chance of beating Obama in November.
Earlier in the week another former Romney rival, former U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich, dropped out of the race and endorsed Romney - even as Gingrich declined to take back his earlier claim that Romney was a liar.
Santorum was Romney’s strongest challenger during the state-by-state nominating race, stunning the former Massachusetts governor by winning contests in Colorado, Missouri and Minnesota on a single day, February 7.
Santorum won a total of 11 states during the primary season. But when it became clear that Romney was in position to win Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, Santorum bailed out of the race.
In subsequent interviews, he has played down some of the harsh rhetoric that he used against Romney, whom he once called the worst candidate Republicans could nominate to face Obama.
Santorum might be on Romney’s list of potential vice presidential nominees, but from the Romney camp’s perspective there is no expectation that Santorum will be Romney’s running mate.
Democrats looking to undermine Romney pointed out some of the acidic comments that Santorum made about Romney on the campaign trail.
“If Mitt Romney’s an economic heavyweight, we’re in trouble, because he was 47th out of 50 in job creation in the state of Massachusetts when he was governor,” Santorum said in March.
Then there was Santorum’s repeated criticism of the healthcare plan Romney developed for Massachusetts that Obama has called a model for the federal overhaul that conservatives want to repeal. Romney has vowed to repeal the federal plan if he is elected.
“Romneycare is a government-run healthcare program, it’s mandates, it’s fines, it’s insurance exchanges set up by the government,” Santorum said in March.
Romney had some equally biting comments about Santorum on the trail while portraying him as a big spender. He said that while in the Senate, Santorum had voted to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and supported government “earmark” spending projects that many Republicans believe are wasteful.
A pivotal moment came during a debate in Arizona in February, when Santorum acknowledged that sometimes “you have to take one for the team” and support policy and spending initiatives in Congress even though you oppose them.
“I wonder, which team he was taking it for?” Romney asked. “My team is the American people, not the insiders in Washington.”
Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by David Lindsey and Eric Beech