NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Two weeks after giving his first television interview since losing the presidential election, Mitt Romney returned to the spotlight again Friday to deliver his first major public speech.
Over the course of the 2012 campaign, Romney seemed more able to win over the heads — not hearts — of conservatives, yet he received a boisterous response from a crowd of a few thousand conservative activists in this hotel ballroom.
Romney urged attendees at the 40th annual Conservative Political Action Conference “to learn from our mistakes and my mistakes” to help win back the White House and Senate.
“As someone who just lost the last election, I'm probably not in the best position to chart the course for the next one,” Romney said before offering advice anyway.
The former Massachusetts governor urged the Republican Party, which has undergone some soul-searching since its November losses, to look to the party’s 30 sitting governors for lessons on how to win elections and govern successfully. Romney name-checked New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, neither of whom were invited to CPAC after receiving heat from conservatives recently.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, Romney's final viable challenger for the presidential nomination, offered similar advice earlier in the day. Santorum told attendees not to look to Congress, "where there are very few leaders," for answers.
Although Romney has always been well received at CPAC, it was unclear what kind of reception he would get after losing by a surprisingly large margin to President Barack Obama in a year when many Republicans believed they had the edge.
But the crowd quickly rose to its feet and offered cheers and applause for the former governor, who has run his last campaign. South Carolina Gov. Nikki R. Haley took the stage just prior to Romney and urged a warm response.
After a campaign-style introduction from Haley, Romney walked onstage to his campaign theme song, “Born Free.”