Romney seeks early nod from the right
Opposes Obama stimulus, backs bank bailout
WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney returned yesterday to a conservative gathering where his 2008 presidential campaign was both birthed and buried, helping to establish the onetime moderate Massachusetts governor as a movement favorite, de-facto leader of an out-of-power party, and an early, default front-runner for the 2012 nomination.
"We realized by last year Mitt Romney was one of the family," said David Keene, the influential head of the American Conservative Union, who introduced Romney to a standing-room only crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "He is more important to us today than he was last year."
In his speech, Romney reestablished the cornerstones of his campaign platform, warning against the excesses of liberal judges, calling for "free-market" changes to Social Security and Medicare, and saying the President Obama's plan to close the Guantanamo Bay prison is "the very kind of thinking that left America vulnerable to the attacks of September 11th."
At the same time, Romney addressed issues that would have been unimaginable a year ago. He declared his opposition to the $787 billion economic stimulus package recently signed into law while tentatively recommitting his support to a financial services bailout in excess of $700 billion that has been unpopular among some on the right. In addition, Obama's resistance to a missile-defense system had strengthened Russia's political standing regionally, he argued.
"Some critics speak as if we need to redefine conservatism," Romney said. "I think that misses the mark. America's challenges are different from year to year, but our defining principles remain the same. Conservatives don't enter each new political era trying to figure out what we believe."
Romney, who launched a political action committee to help Republican candidates nationwide soon after dropping out of the presidential race last year, will be on the ballot when conference attendees conclude voting today on a 2012 presidential straw poll, an early measure of popularity among activists.
Romney will compete with fellow 2008 also-rans Mike Huckabee and Rudolph Giuliani, in addition to Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who are both popular within the party but chose not to travel to the conference.
Romney won the vote at the 2007 conference, effectively launching his campaign, and withdrew from the race here in 2008, two days after being beaten by Senator John McCain in the Super Tuesday primaries.