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Romney urges Ga. gathering to look at record

Addresses shift in moderate views

Mitt Romney said he was a conservative who gets the job done. Mitt Romney said he was a conservative who gets the job done.

SEA ISLAND, Ga. -- Former governor Mitt Romney, speaking to a gathering of influential Christian conservatives and GOP donors last night, addressed head-on the moderate social views he once held, a record that has complicated his appeals to conservative voters in the 2008 Republican primary contest.

Romney, on his first political trip since announcing intentions to seek the presidency, said he has grown and could be trusted to keep the social positions he now holds, which include an opposition to abortion and support for a federal constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.

"Now, I wasn't always a Ronald Reagan conservative. Neither was Ronald Reagan, by the way," Romney said, according to his remarks as prepared for delivery, which were released by his campaign. "And perhaps some in this room have had the opportunity to listen, learn, and benefit from life's experience -- and to grow in wisdom, as I have. My life experience convinced me that Ronald Reagan was right. I'm a conservative that gets the job done. And you don't just have to take my word for it, you can just look at my record."

Romney's remarks came in a keynote address to a black-tie dinner at the Awakening conference, an annual conclave of conservative reflection and policy discussion at this elegant island resort south of Savannah. His address, like the conference in general, was closed to the press, but his campaign provided excerpts of the speech he planned to give.

Though Romney has talked about his past moderate views in recent interviews, his decision to directly address his transformation to a social conservative here illustrates how important he thinks it is to persuade Republicans that he's made a genuine conversion. After his comments from 1994 and 2002 supporting gay rights and abortion rights resurfaced in recent weeks, Romney faced questions from some on the right about whether his change was real, or merely calculated for the 2008 race.

Romney also talked about how the American people, not the government, were the source of the country's strength.

"At this decisive moment in our nation's journey into a new global frontier, there are two competing visions about how America must meet a new generation of challenges," he said. "We must choose between calling on stronger government -- the liberal vision -- or calling on the strength of the American people -- and that is my vision."

Todd Johnson, a stay-at-home mother from Marietta, Ga., who attended the conference, said after the speech that she came into the event with a negative impression of Romney but was willing to reconsider based on what she heard.

"I'll give him a chance," she said, praising his remarks about growing economic competition from Asia.

A businessman from Atlanta, who declined to give his name, said Romney came off as "extremely articulate" and "Reaganesque," but needs to start addressing the country's biggest foreign policy challenge. "I want to hear him talk about Iraq," he said.

The conference, sometimes called the GOP version of the Democrats' Renaissance Weekend, is designed to be an informal get-together where conservatives and their families can enjoy discussion and recreation in a relaxed setting. Participants said 350 to 400 people attended.

Romney's wife, Ann, joined him on the trip.

Romney was not the only potential 2008 Republican candidate to get a good billing at the conference. Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, who would surely challenge Romney for the conservative vote, gave remarks kicking off the event Thursday night. Also at the conference were Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese III.

Romney is scheduled to be back in Massachusetts today and hold a day long fund-raiser tomorrow at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center. The campaign hopes to raise $1 million at the event.

Scott Helman can be reached at

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