Romney not running: Former GOP nominee out of 2016 race

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Mitt Romney general - updated 5/19/2015
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Romney not running: Former GOP nominee out of 2016 race
Mitt Romney and Evander Holyfield fight in a charity boxing event on May 15, 2015 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The event was held to raise money for 'Charity Vision' a charity that aims to restore sight to the blind and visually impaired. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney Visits 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon' at Rockefeller Center on March 25, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/NBC/Getty Images for 'The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon')
Mitt Romney is greeted by fellow Republicans at a dinner during the Republican National Committee's Annual Winter Meeting aboard the USS Midway on January 16, 2015 in San Diego, California. Romney is contemplating a possible 2016 presidential run. (Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the crowd during a rally for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan at a PenAir airplane hangar on November 3, 2014 in Anchorage, Alaska. The U.S. Senate race in Alaska between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican candidate Dan Sullivan continues to be closely contested. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
Former Massachusetts Gov. and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney makes his way through supporters of Iowa Republican State Senator and U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst on October 11, 2014 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Ernst and Romney met with around 300 supporters at the event, one of many in the final weeks of Ernst's campaign for a U.S. Senate seat. U.S. Representative Bruce Braley (D-IA) and Ernst are virtually tied in polling to replace the seat occupied by retiring U.S. Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA). (Photo by David Greedy/Getty Images)
Governor Charlie Baker was sworn in as the governor of Massachusetts at a ceremony inside the House Chamber at the State House on January 8, 2015. Mitt Romney greets Chris Christie after Gov. Baker's swearing in. (Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Mitt Romney attends the New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins game at MetLife Stadium on December 1, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Pereira/WireImage)
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney walks to the stage during a rally for Republican Senate candidate Dan Sullivan at a PenAir airplane hangar on November 3, 2014 in Anchorage, Alaska. The U.S. Senate race in Alaska between incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican candidate Dan Sullivan continues to be closely contested. (Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images)
Former Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, delivers remarks during a 'CoMITT to the Comeback' rally for Michigan republican candidates October 2, 2014 in Livonia, Michigan. Among the Michigan candidates in attendance were U.S. Senate Candidate Terri Lynn Land, Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, Attorney General Bill Schuette, and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
Former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks during a political rally for Republican candidate for Colorado Governor Bob Beauprez, at Heritage High School, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. Romney criticized Colorado Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper during a rally in which he cheered on GOP candidates for governor and Congress. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, addresses a crowd of supporters while introducing New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown at a farm in Stratham, N.H., Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Brown, who is facing incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, was endorsed by Romney at the event. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets the lunch crowd at the Varsity, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014, in Atlanta. Romney attended a private fundraiser for Republican candidate for Senate David Perdue earlier. Romney is the Republican man in demand. The twice-defeated White House contender is campaigning across seven states in five days this week to raise money and energy for Republican midterm candidates. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
Ann Romney and former Governor of Massachusetts Mitt Romney attend the 3rd Annual NFL Honors at Radio City Music Hall on February 1, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 08: Former Republican presidential candiate and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sits ringside fro the Patrick Hyland and Javier Fortuna WBA interim featherweight title fight at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on December 8, 2012 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Mitt Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, kisses a supporter while campaigning for New Hampshire Senate candidate Scott Brown, right, at a farm in Stratham, N.H., Wednesday, July 2, 2014. Brown, who is facing incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, was endorsed by Romney at the event. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
FILE - In this Dec. 8, 2012, file photo, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, center, joined by wife Ann, right, talks with an unidentified spectator at ringside prior to a welterweight fight between Juan Manuel Marquez and Manny Pacquiao title fight in Las Vegas. Romney has emerged from nearly four months in seclusion for an interview with Fox News. He’s also scheduled to deliver his first postelection speech this month at Washington’s Conservative Political Action Conference. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, File)
FILE - This Nov. 7, 2012 file photo shows Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waving to supporters at an election night rally in Boston. Romney’s shadow looms over a GOP in disarray. Republican officials in Washington and elsewhere concede that Romney’s immediate withdrawal from politics _ while welcome by most _ has created a leadership void, leaving the GOP rudderless and fighting with itself during what may be the most important policy debate in a generation. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pauses as he addresses campaign workers while visiting a campaign call center in Green Tree, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and his wife Ann Romney emerge after they voted in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and wife Ann Romney vote in Belmont, Mass., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney waves to a crowd gathered at a nearby parking lot after his campaign plane arrived at Moon Township Pittsburgh International Airport in Coraopolis, Pa., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney gets a hug from Emma Nemecek, of Mt. Vernon, Iowa, during a rally for Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney arrives on stage on election night November 7, 2012 in Boston, Massachusetts, moments before conceding defeat to US President Barack Obama in the 2012 US presidential election. AFP PHOTO/EMMANUEL DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (AP) - Mitt Romney ended his rollercoaster return to presidential politics on Friday, declaring his party would be better served by the "next generation of Republican leaders" and concluding his unlikely comeback as suddenly as it began.

Aides said it was a deeply personal and even painful decision for the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. He insisted he could win the next election if he ran, but his announcement followed a three-week fact-finding effort that revealed significant resistance to a third campaign.

"I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well-known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee," Romney told supporters on a conference call. "In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case."

The remark was both a recognition of his own limitations and an indirect swipe at the man who created the urgency behind Romney's brief flirtation with a third presidential campaign. That is former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, who is speeding toward a campaign of his own.

Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would have served as Romney's most likely rivals for the support of the GOP establishment, and both men felt an immediate impact. The announcement sparked a rush of activity by Romney loyalists - operatives and donors alike - suddenly freed to support another White House hopeful as the crowded 2016 field begins to take shape.

Devoted Romney supporter Bill Kunkler, part of Chicago's wealthy Crown family, said he was disappointed by Friday's news but now was all-in for Bush.

"I'll work for Jeb. Period. And no one else," Kunkler said, noting that he planned to attend a Feb. 18 Chicago fundraiser for Bush hosted by former Romney backers.

Bobbie Kilberg, a top GOP fundraiser based in Virginia, quickly settled on Christie.

"We had long and deep ties and friendship with Mitt," she said. "That has changed obviously, at 11 o'clock this morning."

Romney's aides insist there was no specific incident that caused Friday's abrupt announcement, which came during a late morning conference call with close supporters and former staffers.

The former Massachusetts governor, who is 67, shocked the political world three weeks earlier, when signaled interest in a third presidential run during a private meeting with former donors in New York.

That followed what aides describe as several months of strong encouragement from Republicans as he toured the country raising money and energy for GOP colleagues.

"No one asked McCain to run again," said longtime Romney aide Ron Kaufman, a reference to 2008 nominee John McCain. "Thousands of people asked Mitt to run again."

The surprise announcement of Romney's interest three weeks ago in the office of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson was the first public step in a fact-finding mission meant to assess the 2016 outlook. Romney, a longtime business executive, has typically followed a scientific approach to challenges - political and otherwise - and demanded data before making a decision.

He and his most trusted advisers plunged into phone calls and personal visits with key GOP officials and activists across the country.

At the same time, Romney tested a new stump speech focused on the poor and middle class in three public appearances. Critics jabbed the new focus as an insincere shift designed to shed his image as an out-of-touch millionaire. Those closer to Romney suggested it was a truer reflection of a man of deep faith than most voters saw during his first two presidential campaigns.

The evaluation phase peaked during a gathering of senior aides one week ago at the Boston offices of Solamere Capital, an investment firm led by his eldest son, Tagg Romney, and top fundraiser, Spencer Zwick.

Aides offered Romney a blunt assessment of his 2016 prospects, suggesting there was still a path to victory but also signs of eroding support among donors and in former strongholds such as New Hampshire. They made clear that a new bid for the GOP nomination would be more challenging than his second, when Romney dominated a field that never featured another strong establishment alternative such as Bush or Christie.

In the subsequent days, several major Romney donors and one of his most trusted veteran staffers - someone who had participated in the Boston meeting - defected to Bush's team. The trend was unmistakable, despite Romney's optimism.

The Friday conference call ended what was always intended to be a brief trial period.

"I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but I fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight," Romney said.

He was having dinner Friday night with Christie, who was among his staunchest backers during the 2012 race. Romney is not, however, expected to endorse another Republican candidate in the near future.

And he left the door open, if only a crack, to another comeback. He said he had been asked if there were any circumstance under which he would again reconsider.

That, he said, "seems unlikely."

Romney Won't Run: 'Best' to Give Other Republicans a Chance

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