Romney and Bush

Mitt Romney visits with former President George H.W. Bush, his wife, Barbara, and their dogs Mimi and Bibi at their home in Houston. (Pat Sullivan / Associated Press / December 1, 2011)

Former President George H.W. Bush is calling Mitt Romney the Republican Party's "best choice" in the 2012 race, the latest and perhaps most prominent statement of support for the former Massachusetts governor from the GOP establishment.

Bush, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, praised Romney's "stability, experience, principles."

"He's a fine person. I just think he's mature and reasonable -- not a bomb-thrower," Bush told his hometown paper.

Bush said he liked Rick Perry, who followed his son, George W. Bush, into the governor's mansion in Austin. But "he doesn't seem to be going anywhere," he said.

The elder Bush seemed to delicately swipe at Newt Gingrich, saying he "had a conflict with him" in 1990 when he opposed a budget agreement Bush had reached with majority Democrats, one that forced him to break his "read my lips" pledge on taxes.

"I'm not his biggest advocate," he said of the former speaker.

Bush noted that he faced the same flip-flop charge Romney has faced because of his tax reversal, but that it wouldn't hurt him in the campaign.

"He's got a record as governor, and people change their mind. I don’t take that criticism very seriously," Bush told the Chronicle.

Romney had recently met with Bush at his Houston home. Campaigning in New Hampshire on Thursday, he said he called the former president to thank him personally for his support, and wish him a Merry Christmas.

"I must admit, this is much more important to me personally than politically. He's a real hero to me," Romney told reporters.

He said the support was a sign of the "growing momentum" for his campaign.

Romney has already been endorsed by Bush's vice president, Dan Quayle. Bush's chief of staff, John Sununu, is also a Romney backer and was on the trail with him Thursday.

Maeve Reston contributed to this report from Berlin, N.H.