Mitt Romney tried to erase any doubts about his conservative credentials, arguing that he's fought against government overreach as governor of Massachusetts, while reminding the thousands of grassroots activists gathered here that he's the sole candidate in the Republican presidential race who is not a creature of Washington.
Speaking at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Mr. Romney vowed to be pro-life, abide by the Constitution and slash federal spending — without cutting the nation's military budget.
"My family, my faith, my businesses — I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism," Mr. Romney said, arguing that "I understand the battles we conservatives must fight because I have been on the front lines."
Coming off his disappointing showing in the three nomination contests earlier this week, Mr. Romney is looking to recapture the momentum that he carried out of his back-to-back victories in the Florida primary and Nevada caucus. Former Pennsylania Sen. Rick Santorum's three-state sweep in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado has fed the lingering doubts about Mr. Romney's ability to rally conservatives to his side.
With that as a backdrop, Mr. Romney assured CPAC delegates that he would fight for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between a man and woman. He noted that as governor, he fought against the Massachusetts Supreme Court's decision to allow same-sex marriage and to prevent couples from across the nation from traveling to his state to obtain a marriage license.
"We fought hard and prevented Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of gay marriage," he said.
Mr. Romney trained his heaviest fire at President Obama, saying that if conservatives lead with conviction and integrity, "then history will record the Obama presidency as the last gasp of liberalism's great failure and a turning point for the conservative era to come."
And he looked to distance himself from his three rivals — Mr. Santorum, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — by playing up his executive experience in the private and public sphere and casting himself as a Washington outsider.
"I happen to be the only candidate in this race — Republican or Democrat — who has never worked a day in Washington," he said, sparking applause from the crowd. "I don't have old scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals that I have to defend."
"Any politician," he said, "that tries to convince you that they hated Washington so much that they just couldn't leave, well, that is the same politician that tried to sell you a 'Bridge to Nowhere,'" he said, alluding to the infamous — and never built — pork-barrel bridge project in Alaska. The Romney camp has hammered Mr. Santorum for supporting the project when he served in Congress.
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