WASHINGTON (AP) - Former President George W. Bush is skipping the Republican National Convention next month in Tampa, Fla., where presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney will officially become the party's standard bearer.
"President Bush was grateful for the invitation," his spokesman, Freddy Ford, said Friday in an email. He added the 43rd president "is confident that Mitt Romney will be a great president. But he's still enjoying his time off the political stage and respectfully declined the invitation to go to Tampa."
Bush's presence at the convention could undercut Romney's argument that he knows better than President Barack Obama when it comes to improving the wobbly economy. A CBS News/New York Times poll this month found more voters say Bush deserves the bulk of the blame for the nation's economic downturn than think Obama bears a lot of the responsibility. Almost two-thirds of voters think Romney's economic policies would mirror Bush's at least somewhat.
Bush was deeply unpopular when he left office in 2009 amid the nation's worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He has largely stayed out of politics since returning to Texas with his wife, Laura.
In a recent interview with the Hoover Institute's Peter Robinson, Bush left little doubt he prefers to observe the often-messy process.
"I've crawled out of the swamp. And, I'm not crawling back in!" Bush said. "I'm interested in politics. I'm a supporter of Mitt Romney. I hope he does well. But he can do well without me."
He added that he's trying to regain some anonymity "as best I can."
"I really don't want to be in the public eye anymore and feel a certain sense of liberation not being out there," Bush said in the interview.
Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, announced earlier this week that he plans to skip the convention for health reasons. That means Romney will accept his party's nomination without any former GOP presidents in the audience.
The elder Bush's spokesman, Jim McGrath, said it will be the first time since 1976, when Bush was director of the CIA and refrained from partisan activities, that he won't attend the Republican Party gathering.
Bush, 88, has a form of Parkinson's disease that afflicts his legs. He uses a wheelchair or motorized scooter.