Romney’s reception at CPAC was perhaps his warmest yet for a man who governed Massachusetts as a moderate and who has had a mixed relationship with conservatives over the years. The crowd cheered and stood when he took the stage, and stood again as he finished.
Overall, the CPAC crowd – many of them college students – was energetic and attentive, happy to be among like-minded people and receiving the attentions of leading conservative political figures.
Last year, Romney raised eyebrows when he told CPAC he had been a “severely conservative governor.” But he went on to win the group’s annual presidential straw poll anyway, though just barely, beating former Sen. Rick Santorum, 38 percent to 31 percent. Romney had also won the CPAC straw poll from 2007 to 2009. In 2008, when he lost the Republican nomination to Sen. John McCain of Arizona, he was seen as the conservative alternative.
In 2013, it was a different Romney who took the CPAC stage, held this year at a big convention center in suburban Maryland. He looked tanned and rested, not so much eager to please as eager to stay involved as the Republicans seek to recover from last November’s failures.
Romney acknowledged mistakes, but did not go into specifics.
"Of course, I left the race disappointed that I didn't win,” he said, adding that he was “honored and humbled to have represented the values we believe in.”
“You are a winner!” an audience member shouted.
“It's up to us to make sure that we learn from our mistakes and my mistakes and that we take advantage of that learning to make sure that we take back the nation, take back the White House, get the Senate, and put in place conservative principles,” Romney said.