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Ode to conservatism at CPAC, Romney-style

For Mitt Romney, the Conservative Political Action Conference was a bit of a lion's den. Romney is seen as the moderate in the presidential race, which is why he stressed his conservative credentials.

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Romney didn’t mention the controversy, but he alluded to it.

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“I will reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent life in this country,” he said. It was the final point in a litany of promises aimed at proving he would be a “pro-life president.”

So how did Romney do? Scott Kamp, one of the legions of college students in attendance at CPAC, said he’s a Newt Gingrich fan, because he’s such a “great speaker.” But Mr. Kamp thought Romney’s speech was “pretty good,” and he would happily vote for him for president.  

“He did pander a bit,” said Kamp, who attends Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. “But he has to do that here.”

There’s no doubt that CPAC 2012 wasn’t Romney’s crowd, in contrast to 2008, when he was seen as the conservative alternative to eventual nominee John McCain. This was Rick Santorum’s year at CPAC – social conservatism is his bread and butter, and the crowd loved his speech. He’s favored to win the CPAC straw poll; the results will be announced Saturday afternoon, including a pick for vice president.

Some attendees noted that Romney didn’t have a table in the vendors’ area, while Mr. Santorum and Mr. Gingrich did. (Ron Paul, who won the 2010 and 2011 CPAC straw polls, didn’t attend this year, and didn’t have as large a contingent in attendance as the previous two years.)

But there seemed to be plenty of folks wearing Romney stickers, and in a burst of excitement, a parade of chanting, Romney-sign-carrying college students wended their way through a crowded hallway at the Marriott Wardman Park late Friday afternoon – well after Romney had left the building. It felt a bit like Occupy, conservative-style.

One sure vote against Romney at CPAC was actress and comedian Victoria Jackson, late of Saturday Night Live. She’s now a big tea party activist, and a fan of Santorum. “He would base his decisions on the Bible,” she says. Would she ever be willing to vote for Romney? “No,” she says. “I don’t think he’s a conservative.”

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