FROM NEWS WIRE SERVICES
WASHINGTON -- As presidential endorsements go, this one could hardly have been more low-key. ABC News caught up with former President George W. Bush in an elevator in downtown Washington on Tuesday and asked the question that elicited the sound bite.
"I'm for Mitt Romney," Bush said, just as the doors slid shut. The 43rd president of the United States was on his way to give a speech on human freedom, in which he made no mention of domestic politics, save one sidelong reference: "I actually found my freedom by leaving Washington."
In his speech, Bush praised the Arab Spring movement and said the United States shouldn't fear the spread of freedom, even if it doesn't know what policies newly liberated countries will pursue.
"America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere," Bush said. "It only gets to choose what side it is on." And the United States, Bush said, should always be on the side of freedom.
Bush's absence from this year's presidential race stands in sharp contrast with his predecessor, who has stayed in campaign mode pretty much since he left office.
In 2004, Bill Clinton appeared at a Philadelphia rally with Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts, the Democratic nominee, only seven weeks after having quadruple bypass surgery. "If this isn't good for my heart, I don't know what is," Clinton told a cheering throng of more than 100,000.
Despite the fact that his wife lost the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama in 2008, Clinton has eagerly stepped up as a validator and fundraiser for the current president in his bid for re-election.
Don't expect to see anything like that from Bush.
"We welcome the president's support, as we welcomed his father's" in late March, when former President George H.W. Bush bestowed his formal endorsement on the all-but-inevitable GOP nominee, said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
"We're proud to have the president's support," she added, "but he made clear when he left office that he was not going to engage in political campaigns, and we have no reason to believe that is going to change."
Meanwhile, the former president whose name Romney was invoking with approval at a campaign stop in Iowa on Tuesday was Clinton.
"Almost a generation ago, Bill Clinton announced that the era of big government was over," Romney said. "President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship. It's enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons."
In Des Moines, Romney painted Obama as a reckless steward of the country's economy and, as proof, pointed to "a financial crisis of debt and spending that threatens what it means to be an American."
He offered a far-reaching indictment of Obama's tenure and portrayed himself as a beacon of fiscal responsibility with the public and private sector experience to prove it.
"A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation, and every day we fail to act that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love," Romney told supporters at a downtown hotel.