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Obama and Romney together: Chili, not chilly

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WASHINGTON – Three weeks after the election, Mitt Romney made it to the White House.

For about 90 minutes. After an odd arrival in which a man rushed his SUV and ended up getting arrested by the Secret Service.

It wasn't the start of a term as Romney had envisioned. But it was, at least, all on good terms with the man who defeated him, President Barack Obama.

Over a private lunch on Thursday, Obama and Romney had some white turkey chili, Southwestern grilled chicken salad and – from the reports of it – the kind of actual conversation that never happens while two presidential nominees are bashing each other's ideas during a campaign.

They shook hands in the Oval Office. They spoke of American leadership in the world. They pledged to keep in touch. Maybe even work together.

All that, at least, according to a White House statement about what happened behind closed doors. The two men themselves never faced reporters.

"Each man wanted to have a private conversation," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "They didn't want to turn it into a press event."

Much has happened already in American politics since the Nov. 6 election, when voters ended a fierce presidential race by choosing Obama in convincing fashion. Romney is among those who have opined on why he lost, telling donors Obama won by giving "gifts" to groups like Latinos, blacks and young voters.

Carney said that comment, widely panned as disparaging by leaders of both parties, did not hang over the postelection meeting of the two men.

The spokesman underscored Obama's interest in listening to Romney's ideas.

Obama presumably did so without accusing his former rival of having "Romnesia" about his own positions, as the president had once charged with a wicked smile.

Long gone too, it seemed, was Romney's accusation over the summer that Obama was running a "campaign of division and anger and hate."

"Gov. Romney congratulated the president for the success of his campaign and wished him well over the coming four years," the White House statement said.

And this: "They pledged to stay in touch, particularly if opportunities to work together on shared interests arise."

Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom agreed that it was a "very friendly lunch" between two men who spoke about the big challenges facing the nation.

Still, Romney did not get the warmest of welcomes coming into the White House gates.

The Secret Service said a man interfered with his vehicle as it arrived at a secure checkpoint near the White House. The man was later interviewed by an officer and became combative, the Secret Service said. He was charged with assault on a police officer and unlawful entry.

As for the meeting that followed, aides familiar with both sides said it amounted to political symbolism and a promise kept but that it had no substantive or specific agenda. Obama had told the watching world on election night that he would sit down with Romney in the weeks ahead.

That they did, in the dining room just off the Oval Office.

As much as the bitter campaign consumed 2012, it faded remarkably quickly. Obama is in a fiscal fight with Congress, with the economy at stake.

Romney has largely disappeared from the public eye.

Republican officials said they had little expectation the meeting would produce any meaningful results. They said that while Romney was the face of the GOP for much of the year, he did not command enough following among the party's passionate voters or chattering class to maintain a leadership role going forward.

The same is not true of Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, who also met privately with Romney in Washington on Thursday.

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Associated Press writers Ken Thomas, Philip Elliott, Julie Pace and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.

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Follow Ben Feller on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BenFellerDC

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