Mitt Romney laid out his conservative credentials today in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, assuring activists that he is indeed one of them.
“I understand the battles we as conservatives must fight because I have been on the front lines and expect to be on those front lines again,” the former Massachusetts governor said. “This gathering has always welcomed me, and you’ve consistently supported me. Not because of my rhetoric but because of my record in that deep blue state.”
Romney won the CPAC straw poll in 2007 and 2008, and going into the 2008 gathering was seen as the conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). Speaking to the same crowd four years later, Romney had some persuading to do to a segment of the GOP electorate still unsure of his authenticity.
He repeatedly touted the conservative principles he stood up for in business and as governor in hopes of helping secure the GOP nomination.
“We conservatives believe in freedom and free people and free enterprises,” he said. “As conservatives we’re united by a set of core convictions. Not everyone has taken the same path to get here. ... My path to conservatism came from my family, from my faith and from my life’s work.”
While introducing him to the stage, American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas brought up Romney’s record on conservative positions and said Romney was moving in the right direction.
“In every instance, the change has been toward the more conservative point of view, evidenced by more than a decade of leadership and executive action,” Cardenas said. “That’s the type of evolution conservatives welcome and enthusiastically embrace.”
Romney also sought to distinguish himself from his top two opponents, former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), who both have their supporters here.
“I happen to be the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, which never worked a day in Washington,” Romney said. “I don’t have old scores to settle or decades of cloak room deals that I have to defend.”
Romney, who said he would come to Washington as president and then leave for good, touted his business experience as the foundation of the conservative movement.
“I did some of the very things conservatism is designed for. I started new businesses and turned around broken ones, and I’m not ashamed to say I was successful in doing it,” he said.
Romney promised “bold and sweeping reforms” to balance the budget, “eliminate Obamacare,” “dramatically reduce the size of the federal workforce” and “save Medicare and reform Social Security” while taking tax increases off the table.
Those promises concerned Greg Synnestvedt, a student at Bryn Athyn College in Pennsylvania, who said it reminded him of “impractical” promises that President Barack Obama made in 2008. Synnestvedt, among the majority of the crowd under the age of 25, said he could support either Romney or Santorum but is leaning away from Gingrich.
Christopher Buchholz, a student at the College of William & Mary, said, “Santorum did a better job of energizing the crowd,” but he is currently favoring Romney. Joey Kalmin, 20, is a student at the University of Maryland and a self-described political junkie and moderate. Romney is the only Republican he would vote for.
Georgann Gutteridge, 61, is a Gingrich supporter but said the “broad strokes” Romney took on conservative issues during his speech made him “more palatable to me, but he’s still not my first choice.”