Hopefuls strut their conservative stuff at CPAC

President Obama's attempt Friday to strike a compromise on religious groups covering contraception in health insurance plans reverberated at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington.

Presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all spoke at the meeting - and each tried to highlight his conservative credentials.

Romney had a simple but crucial mission at the conference -- to convince skeptical Republicans that he is a conservative to his core.

"My 42-year marriage to my wife, Ann, the life we've built with our five sons ... these conservative constants have shaped my life," he told the crowd.

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Romney used the words conservative or conservatism 24 times in his speech, on everything from family values to the economy. "In business," he said, "if you're not fiscally conservative, you're bankrupt. I spent 25 years balancing budgets."

But many at CPAC are having trouble forgiving Romney for his previous support of abortion rights and a health care mandate.

He told the audience what they wanted to hear, at one point saying, to loud applause, he would "eliminate Obamacare." He added, "Let me be clear, mine will be a pro-life presidency."

Many attendees remained unconvinced. "Great speech," said one, "but deep inside, I don't know if I can trust him." "I'm not convinced," said another. "I think he played well to this audience, but I don't know if it was anything other than playing well to this audience."

Rick Santorum, who is rising in some polls after winning contests in three states earlier this week, posed the question many at the conference were asking about Romney/ "Why," Santorum asked the audience, "would an undecided voter, vote for a candidate of a party the party is not excited about?"

The CPAC conference was to announce the results of its straw poll Saturday. Santorum has a lot of supporters at the conference and is hoping to do well.

CPAC will conclude Saturday with what is sure to be a fiery speech by Sarah Palin.

To see Chip Reid's report, click on the video in the player above. For analysis from CBS News political director John Dickerson, click on the video below:

  • Chip Reid

    Chip Reid is CBS News' national correspondent.