Mitt Romney tells conservatives he is one of them

Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 10, 2012.
AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Mitt Romney on Friday sought to establish his conservative credentials with an influential voting bloc in his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, slamming President Obama's time in power as "the last gasp of liberalism's great failure and the turning point for the conservative era to come."

The former Massachusetts governor said he is the man to lead conservatives in that new era because he has lived their ideals and he has the right convictions.

"My family, my faith, my businesses -- I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism," Romney told an audience at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington.

The conservatives at CPAC -- touted as the "ultimate" conservative focus group by the conference hosts -- were eager to hear from the Republican presidential candidate. Ahead of Romney's remarks, a line hundreds of people deep trailed all the way through the Marriott hotel, with conservatives waiting to get inside the ballroom where he was about to speak. Once Romney took the stage, the crowd energetically chanted, "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt!"

Romney's main GOP rival, Rick Santorum, addressed the CPAC crowd earlier in the day and got a good reception with a speech suggesting Romney isn't an authentic conservative.

But in his own remarks, Romney pleased the crowd by defining America's greatness as adherence to the nation's founding principles. "The wisdom of our founding documents is that they see the nation's prosperity not as a product of government, but as the product of individual citizens, each pursuing happiness," he said.

Romney suggested that his opponents -- the president and his GOP rivals -- have strayed from those principles after spending too much time in Washington.

"Politicians are routinely elected on promises to change Washington, but when they come here, they become creatures of Washington," he said. "They begin to see government as the answer to every challenge and the solution for every problem."

Romney called Mr. Obama the "worst offender," but also took direct aim at Santorum. He didn't mention the former senator by name but alluded to his vote in support of the infamous "bridge to nowhere."

"Let me tell you, any politician that tries to convince you that they hated Washington so much that they just couldn't leave, well, that's the same politician who will try and sell you a bridge to nowhere," he said.

The former governor touted his business experience and said he tried to stay "as far away from government as humanly possible." But he also highlighted his success as a Republican governor in a liberal state.

"Even with a legislature that was 85 percent Democrat, we cut taxes 19 times and balanced the budget all four years," he said. "That experience of slimming down, cutting, eliminating -- I want to take that to Washington. I want to get my hands on Washington, D.C."

Romney threw plenty of red meat to the conservative audience, promising to preserve the Defense of Marriage Act and fight for a federal marriage amendment. He also promised a "pro- life presidency" and to "reverse every single Obama regulation that attacks our religious liberty and threatens innocent life in this country."