WASHINGTON -- Mitt Romney portrayed his life as an embodiment of conservative values in action Friday as he courted a gathering of activists dotted with skeptical supporters of his Republican rivals.
But his own partisan were well represented in the audience at the Conservative Political Action Conference. The sustained applause he drew at several points easily matched or exceeded the reception his rival Rick Santorum, had received from the same crowd a few hours earlier.
Mr. Romney didn't mention any of his competitors for the nomination by name, but he took several opportunities to suggest that they had gone Washington in becoming parts of the Capitol establishment they once pledged to confront.
"I happen to be the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democratic, who has
never worked a day in Washington,'' he said.
In a shot at Mr. Santorum and former Speaker Newt Gingrich, Mr. Romney questioned the post-Congressional choices of politicians who claim, "They hated Washington so much they just could't leave.''
"I will change washington D.C. and then I will leave Washington and go back home to my community that I love,'' he said.
But most of his speech to the activists was a defense of his own record and an assertion that despite criticism of his evolving positions on social issues, his life had been a practical example of the principles they advocate
Describing his life as the son of auto executive and Republican governor George Romney, his business career and his 42-year marriage, he said, "These conservative constants have shaped my life.''
"I spent 25 years balancing budget eliminating waste, and by the way keeping as far away form go government as humanly possible,'' he said, referring to the business career that has been criticized by Mr. Gingrich among others.
And he received one of his louder rounds of applause as he noted of his business record, "And I'm not ashamed to say I was successful doing it.''
Mr. Romney's record as governor of Massachusetts, with it, his signing of a mandatory health care law is the root of much of the conservative unease about mr. Romney. he didn't mention the health care law, which Mr. Santorum had sharply criticized before the same group, but he did argue that his record showed him to be a guardian of the right.
"As governor, I defended conservatism in the most liberal state in the nation,'' he said.
"I was fighting against long odds in a deep blue state but I was a severely conservative Republican governor,'' he continued, citing his opposition to gay marriage and his support for Catholic adoption agencies refusal to place orphans with gay couples.