On Friday, Mr. Romney was the on again, off again front-runner for the GOP 2012 nomination looking to score enough points with conservative activists, volunteers, and media members to earn what American Conservative Union chairman Al Cardenas called “the ultimate seal of approval in terms of authenticity from conservatives.”
While that seal of approval wasn’t necessarily evident after Romney’s appearance, he used his speech in Northwest Washington, D.C., to rip President Obama’s record and highlight his own conservative credentials.
“My family, my faith, my businesses – I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism,” Romney said. “As the governor of Massachusetts I had the unique experience of defending conservative principles in the most liberal state in the nation.”
He contrasted his record with Mr. Obama's, referring to Obama as “the poster child for the arrogance of government.”
“This election is really a battle for the soul of America,” Romney continued. “Whether we want a nation of and by Washington, or a nation of and by a free people. And we conservatives believe in freedom and free people and free enterprises.”
He even managed a few deft digs at two of his main opponents, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
“Any politician that tries to convince you that they hated Washington so much that they just couldn’t leave,” Romney said. “Well, that’s the same politician that will try to sell you a bridge to nowhere.”
However, Romney didn't deliver on two items that some attendees said they most wanted to see from the former Bain Capital executive: emotional outreach to voters and a discussion of his Massachusetts health-care plan, which created a state-run health-care system.
Mr. Cardenas said that voters needed to see Romney speaking from his heart. Noting Herman Cain’s success at a CPAC straw poll last year, he added “No one gave Herman Cain, in Florida, a calling card about what he needed to say, but he spoke from the heart and he spoke with conviction.”
“To hit a home run, you’ve got to cover all the bases and let people know you’re speaking from the heart,” said Cardenas, whose group puts on CPAC every year. “When your primary focus in life has been a successful career in business, you want to make sure that people also know the emotional side of you.
Compared with some of Romney’s recent speeches, this oration had a similar gloss on Romney family history but without the deeply personal anecdotes Romney has recently used on the campaign trail.
On the Massachusetts health-care plan, Josh Kropkof, a student at Richard Stockton College in New Jersey and a Rick Santorum supporter, said Romney should confront the health-care plan upfront to win his support.
“Even though he stands by it as a state’s rights issue, for me, the issue is that isn’t a conservative thing to do,” Mr. Kropkof said.
His supporters, however, had nary a quibble with Romney’s speech.
“Whatever he did back then, I don’t think is relevant,” Milton Strom, a Romney supporter and an attorney from New York City said about Romney’s health-care record. “The question is: What he’s going to do now? He said he’s going to get rid of Obamacare, clearly … so what he did 20 years ago is irrelevant.”
Indeed, many Romney supporters say they’ve heard all the arguments against him – but the desire to beat Obama burns far hotter.
“I want to win. And I’m scared to death if we don’t,” said Mary Hill, a registered nurse from Kansas City, Mo., “That’s the main thing that would cause me to support someone like Mitt Romney…. What you have to say is, ‘do you want Obamacare to be the law of the land?’ If you say that, people are going to get their butts to the ballot box.”
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