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George H.W. Bush "unofficially" endorses Romney

Former President George H.W. Bush gives a smile to crowd after he was on the video screen during a baseball game between the Milwauakee Brewers and Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on April 30, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Bob Levey/Getty Images

Former President George H.W. Bush has given an "unofficial" endorsement to Mitt Romney in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

"I think Romney is the best choice for us," Mr. Bush told the Houston Chronicle. He then addressed a fellow Texan in the presidential race, Gov. Rick Perry. "I like Perry, but he doesn't seem to be going anywhere; he's not surging forward."

A spokesman for Mr. Bush tells CBS News his expression of support for Mitt Romney should be viewed as an "unofficial" endorsement. The spokesman says Mr. Obama "expressed his preference" when asked by a reporter.

The spokesman says there will be no press release or press conference for the 87-year-old former president to announce an official endorsement.

Jim Appleby, an aide to the former president, told CBS News of the comments: "It is not an endorsement. It is a personal feeling toward Governor Romney."

Appleby said the former president was at lunch yesterday with "a couple of friends from the Chronicle" and agreed to answer their questions on the record. He also said Mr. Bush is not ramping up for a formal endorsement.

"The article kind of speaks for itself," he said.

At least some are taking the comments as an endorsement, however - even if it is unofficial. Riding on the Romney bus, former New Hampshire governor and George H.W. Bush White House chief of staff John Sununu told CBS News and the National Journal, "an endorsement from former President Bush is about as good as you can get."

As an elder statesman in the party, Mr. Bush's support symbolizes Romney's appeal among many establishment Republicans when much of the primary fight so far has focused on the conservative base.

Mr. Bush told the Chronicle that he is drawn to Romney's "stability, experience, principles," adding, "He's a fine person."

"I just think he's mature and reasonable - not a bomb-thrower," he added. Mr. Bush has long known Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and also knew Romney's father George Romney, the former Michigan governor.

Mr. Bush was critical of Newt Gingrich, telling the newspaper that "I'm not his biggest advocate." He said he had a conflict with Gingrich over Gingrich electing not to back him after he reneged on his "no new taxes" pledge as president.

"He was there, right outside the Oval Office. I met with all the Republican leaders, all the Democratic leaders," Mr. Bush told the Chronicle. "The plan was, we were all going to walk out into the Rose Garden and announce this deal. Newt was right there. Got ready to go out in the Rose Garden, and I said, 'Where's Gingrich?' Went up to Capitol Hill. He was here a minute ago. Went up there and started lobbying against the thing."

On the trail in New Hampshire, Romney said he talked to Mr. Bush and "thanked him for his support, his leadership, his heroic life, and his friendship."

"As you can tell there's growing momentum for this effort here in New Hampshire and across the country," Romney said. "This is much more important to me personally than even politically."

A spokesman for the other former President Bush - George W. Bush - is ruling out any endorsement during the primaries. Spokesman Freddy Ford told CBS News that Mr. Bush "will support the Republican nominee but he's not going to wade into the swamp during the primaries."

Sarah Boxer and Brian Montopoli contributed to this report.

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