WASHINGTON (CNN) - Mitt Romney, disciplined politician, is quick to say he's not a presidential candidate. It's Mitt Romney's schedule that seems to be a bit off-message.
Earlier this year, he got a hero's welcome at the Conservative Political Action Conference, where more than a few attendees attendees insisted his economic credentials might have nabbed him the Oval Office if the economic crisis had hit before the Republican Party had decided on its 2008 standard-bearer.
On Friday, he was the keynote speaker at the Virginia GOP's Commonwealth Gala dinner in Richmond. Yesterday, he weighed in on his party's future on Fox News, Sunday. The former Massachusetts governor's making appearances as a key member of the National Council for a New America - the move, led by House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia, to re-brand the GOP. Meanwhile, Free and Strong America PAC - Romney's political action committee, dedicated to supporting conservative candidates - is helping him build the national network of party loyalists he'd need to clinch the nomination, if he decides to run again.
And today, nearly two weeks after former vice president Dick Cheney took on President Barack Obama's national security policy before a think-tank crowd in Washington, Romney is scheduled to give his own take - laid out in a speech called "The Care of Freedom" - to a Heritage Foundation audience, assessing the new administration's response on North Korea and other foreign policy challenges.
It's slated to be the latest in a string of tough critiques of President Obama - including a tough take on Supreme Court pick Sonia Sotomayor - that have made him a conservative favorite in the first months of the new administration, even as he carefully avoids the kind of incendiary attacks and media overexposure that could threaten mainstream appeal he'd need to reach the Oval Office.
On Sunday, the 2008 presidential contender denied reports he was planning to move his permanent residence to the Granite State in advance of a repeat run for the nation's top spot. But he was more equivocal on the overall question of a 2012 bid. "I'm not going to close that door" he told Fox - although, he added, "I'm not going to walk through it either."
"[T]he action that I'm going through right now is trying to help people who I think would make a difference for the country and, frankly, also help some people who helped me," he said.
Romney's re-invention hasn't come without a few false steps. Supporters of Newt Gingrich, another Republican leader whose name is regularly mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, complained last month that the former House Speaker was initially prevented from joining the NCNA by the former governor's team - a charge Romney's aides, and Cantor representatives, strongly deny.
And after he weighed in on behalf of New Jersey gubernatorial candidate Chris Christie, supported by the Free and Strong America PAC, primary rival Steve Lonegan fired back with a salvo aimed squarely at Romney's chief vulnerability last cycle: the sense by some movement conservatives that the Massachusetts resident was more moderate than he would like Republicans to believe.
"Mitt Romney was rejected by Republican Primary voters because he was a moderate trying to pass himself off as a conservative just in time to win an election," said Lonegan in a statement released by his campaign.
It's the kind of reaction that helped cost him the nomination last cycle - and the sort of response his team would like to banish long before the next race takes shape. But Romney's not counting on immediate rewards on his long journey back to the campaign trail.
"We have plenty of time to decide what the future holds," he told Fox on Sunday. "It's very early, five months into the president's term. We'll see how he does, and we as a party are going to come back stronger, more vibrant, and more committed to following the principles that have always been at the base of our party."