Romney basks in debate afterglow at surprise CPAC visit

Mitt Romney speaks at a Colorado Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) meeting in Denver, Thursday, Oct. 4, 2012.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

DENVER - Basking in the afterglow of a strong performance in the first of three presidential debates, Mitt Romney made an unannounced stop at the Colorado Conservative Political Action Conference and received a standing ovation from a surprised Republican audience.

"Last night I thought was a great opportunity for the American people to see two very different visions for the country," Romney told the crowd Thursday. "And I think it was helpful to be able to describe those visions. I saw the president's vision as trickle-down government and I don't think that's what America believes in. I see instead a prosperity that comes through freedom. We have two very different courses for America - trickle-down government or prosperity through freedom."

The Republican nominee first used the term "trickle-down government" during last night's debate, when he said the phrase described "government thinking it can do a better job than people pursuing their dreams." He told the CPAC audience that free enterprise and lower taxes -- not "trickle-down government" -- would create jobs and bring down the cost of energy.

Romney also continued to attack the Democratic ticket for Vice President Joe Biden's remark Tuesday that middle class has been "buried for the last four years." Biden said later they'd been buried by pre-Obama-administration policies supported by Romney, but the damage was done.

"If we continue down his path," Romney said Thursday of President Obama, "there's no question that the middle class, which the vice president noted has been buried, will continue to be buried with higher and higher expenses for gasoline, for food, for utilities, for health insurance."

It was not Romney's first appearance before the conservative grassroots organization this election season. In February he addressed the national conference in Washington, D.C., where he described himself as a "severely conservative Republican governor." At the time, Romney was struggling to rally support from conservatives while fending off challenges from Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and others.

Romney's visit to the conservative group here came after a debate performance that appeared designed to appeal to independent voters. The Republican nominee said he would work across party lines to break through Washington gridlock, and he embraced the health care law he signed as governor of Massachusetts as an example of such collaboration.

"I like the fact that in my state, we had Republicans and Democrats come together and work together," Romney told Obama during the debate. "What you did instead was to push through a plan without a single Republican vote."

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    Sarah Huisenga is covering the Mitt Romney campaign for CBS News and National Journal.