WASHINGTON (CNN) – A day after former Baptist minister and likely presidential rival Mike Huckabee offered a withering critique of Mitt Romney's record, Romney made his pitch to the same group of religious conservatives – a voting bloc that could be key to any future White House bid.
The former Massachusetts governor appealed to attendees at the Values Voters Summit in Washington Saturday, using a speech that drew heavily from his address to social conservatives at the same hotel earlier this year. "Putting such a spirit-crushing, back-breaking debt burden on our children is unworthy of our national character," he said. "That is why I believe that this spending and borrowing is not just economically irresponsible, it is morally wrong."
He blasted the Obama administration's financial track record, and its decision to consider prosecuting intelligence agents who violated government protocols on the interrogation of prisoners. "(Obama) can spin a speech, but he can't spin his record," said Romney. "And I'll bet you never dreamed you'd look back at Jimmy Carter as the good old days."
Despite the makeup of the crowd, the speech was relatively light on social issues, focusing instead on economic and security policy.
The former Republican presidential candidate, widely considered a likely 2012 contender, is on the ballot for the gathering's 2012 presidential straw poll, along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
(Updated with DNC response after the jump)
Just four of those prospective GOP standard-bearers spoke at the three-day conference: Romney, Pence, Huckabee, and Pawlenty. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who will speak later Saturday, earlier asked that his name be removed from the straw poll ballot.
Romney has eked out several victories in similar recent measures of conservative presidential preference, including the Conservative Political Action Conference straw poll earlier this year, and the last Values Voter Summit contest, held two years ago. He narrowly defeated Huckabee that year in a vote that was open to voters who cast their ballots over the Web. This year's vote is limited to conference attendees.
The Mormon Romney – who battled Huckabee for evangelical support during the 2008 Republican primary season – drew a polite, though not overwhelming, response from activists Saturday. He continued to make a bid for social conservative support, taking aim at Obama's address to the nation's schoolchildren earlier this month: He backed the president's decision to speak to students, but slammed him for failing to focus on the challenges of single parenthood and out-of-wedlock births.
Romney's efforts to reform health care in Massachusetts have come under fire from Huckabee, who told the summit Friday that the former governor's plan would bankrupt his former state. "In fact, the only thing inexpensive about Massachusetts' health care bill is that there you can get a $50 abortion," Huckabee said, drawing instant pushback from the Romney camp.
On Saturday, the former Massachusetts governor continued the defense of the health care overhaul launched during his tenure, and criticized President Obama's health care plan. "…This Republican worked to reform health care in my own state," he said. "Not every feature of our plan is perfect, but the lesson it teaches is this: you can get everyone insured, without breaking the bank and without a government option. There is no government option in my Massachusetts reform. The right answer for health care is not more government, it is less government."
Romney's criticism of the president's health care plan drew a muffled shout of "He lied!" from a man in the audience, followed by a round of laughter and applause from the crowd.
The Democratic National Committee - which blasted Tim Pawlenty after his conference speech Friday - also slammed Romney's remarks Saturday. "If Mitt Romney thinks pandering to the far right is a winning strategy, that's his choice," said Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan. "Of course, it didn't work out so well for him last time. Maybe that's because given how often he changes his position on issues he has no credibility with the right. And given how often he's misrepresenting the truth he doesn't have much credibility with anyone else either."
Conference breakout panels Saturday afternoon are slated to include Global Warming Hysteria: The New Face of the "Pro-Death Agenda"; Obamacare: Rationing Your Life Away; Activism and Conservatism: Fit to a (Tea) Party; and Thugocracy: Fighting the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy. The summit's straw poll results - an early look at the state of the 2012 race - are scheduled for release mid-afternoon.
Follow Rebecca Sinderbrand on Twitter: @sinderbrandrcnn
Yes, and Romney had to read his speech from a teleprompter! Mr. Brilliant, so who was Mr. Brilliants speech writer? Yoke, Yoke,
Romney humor was flat and dry, and no doubt he last on the list and after a truly humorist speaker Bennett, Romney teleprompter reading must have lulled the audience off into la, la land.
Romney is the best choice for presidency in 2012!
Romney is strong on economics and defense but weak on social issues. Where I question him is Massacussetts universal health care. It is strong by making people get insurance or pay a fine, but it has bankrupt the state which is already in trouble with their high taxes and welfare state mentality.
But it was just fine to spend like a drunken sailor as long as it was for WAR and the GOP were holding the purse strings, huh?
Please... the stench of your hypocrisy is gagging me.
Yes, here is a man who understands....it the economy STUPID.... he has EXPERIENCE with solving financial problems. of course the liberals will hate him
He is not mainstream Christian, so the evangelicals will hate him
He is a Christian...so the liberal socialists will hate him
If he and Ron Paul could get together, the intellegent, independents would finally have a choice
Mitt and ALL Polititions like him are harmful to the future of AMERICA.
They will support a bill that gives taxpayers money to the rich (bush's tax cuts), or a bill that wastes billions of taxpayers dollars oversees(Iraq).
But, a bill that pays for itself, and cuts health care costs by billions along the way, say-party-of...NO!
This whole conference was absolutely terrifying. There topics are way out there in right field and had ZERO basis in reality. Few months now i have been trying to wrap my head around there extremely twisted logic to no avail. It just doesn't make any sense. Example_ the homosexual agenda of public schools? Really, what planet are they living on. It certainly isn't earth. Do any of them check out facts or even care about them? Oh the czar issue, this is really sad, it is a name given to different directors of agencies buy the press instead of saying there really long agency names. Bush had about 48, Obama 35. We have always had these so called czars. Seriously folks, have you all gone insane. I really hope they find a clue and the dems stay in power at least a few more elections until the GOP has a smart fact based grown up to lead them.
Wouldn't it be awesome if a True American Patriot with a blue collar background made good in the FREE MARKET ran in 2012 as an Independent Fiscally conservative Centrist. The potential candidate could run on a platform of cleaning the House and Senate of all career lobbyist corrupted politicians. America is ready! Who could fit this slot, who?
How do you go to work for the Government making $170,000,00/yr in salary and come out as a multi-millionaire? Hmmmmm, Good question for Chris Dodd and Charlie Rangel!
Too late you lost!
To those Right Wingers who keep asserting that since the economic collapsed happened soon after the Democrats took over congress then it must be the Democrats' fault – let me explain a couple of things:
First, in a Bubble-Burst situation there has to be a bubble to begin with before it can be burst. That bubble was formed, swelled and grew to the point of collapse all through the years the Republicans were in control. By the time the Democrats came along, the forces that would lead to its bursting were already in place and were pretty much inevitable.
Second, there is a difference between having a majority and being in control. True, the Democrats gained a razor thin majority in the 2006 election. However, they were completely blocked by the Republicans every step of the way. The rare time something actually did make it through congress, it was promptly vetoed by Bush. How can you hold the Democrats responsible for anything when the were so totally shackled by the Republicans?
And just where were these nuts when george bush was the one spending every thing he could beg borrow or steal. here we have a president trying to straighten out the sorry mess of the last 8 years and i might add with no help from the republicans that helped bush spend this country in to the ground. i guess when a republican does it it is fine. but let a democrat try to put things toghether again then he is ruining the country. stupid, stupid, stupid.
OK...now I am totally convinced these people are truly nuts and dangerous, just by looking at the topics of the afternoon breakout panels. If these titles are not the cynical jabs they appear to be, then the sponsors and attendees of this conference are indeed pathetic, paranoid people. I am glad, however, to have been given the opportunity to hear what this conference is all about, it only reaffirms my beliefs about the conservative base.
Obama didn't create the debt. The previous 8 years did.
OUR President is just trying to stop the bleeding.
If he done nothing about it... what would they be saying then??
These GOP geniuses don't get it.
Politics before America... their new motto!
Mitt sure knows his base. Religious conservatives – a voting bloc that could be key to any future bid for dog catcher. Go Mitt go ... woff
It sad to see my former party turning moderates into zealots to gain favor. When 3 times divorced, arrested for drugs, Limbaugh (where is the Christianity?) sets a sad and angry tone I guess the moderates feel they must go to the extreme to be heard and supported.
I am open to the criticism if these politicians are willing to forgo their own government sponsored insurance and pull out of their own social security, which as a system is about as socalist as it gets.
I'm sick of my premium skyrocketing since the costs of all these uninsured people get pushed over to us. People going to ERs for minor complaints since they have no health care gets paid somehow. At least some of these reforms will put it into the correct part of the system and hopefully allow our ERs to be used as intended.
Romney can spin and spend his entire fortune, but he will never be POTUS.
"Putting such a spirit-crushing, back-breaking debt burden on our children is unworthy of our national character," he said. "That is why I believe that this spending and borrowing is not just economically irresponsible, it is morally wrong."
that is right. $7 trillion to pay for unjust wars, tax cuts for the rich and a mandate to teach kids to pass a test– that is morally wrong.
i dont like neather one of them they both need to just grow up an get over there selfes
There is no such thing as a religious conservative. From what I have seen in the past week, conservatives have no real connection with God or religion. These people are unkind, downright mean spirited. They are hateful, racists who actually believe that President Obama should not be president. I am a liberal, but I would willingly vote a third party into power before I would vote for THE OTHER PARTY IN THIS COUNTRY.
just wonder what the GOP is going to run on in 2012. If by chance some of the things that President Obama is doing has worked by then (sorry righties but it's going to take more than NINE freaking months to do it) then what? Can they unite the base since the base seems to be nothing but extreme right wing Limbaugh loving zealots and the religious lot that still think being a Mormon is a cult? Sorry Matty you have a lot to overcome with your own people less known the DNC. Think you could handle giving a speech and outside the building you have men carrying AK47s because they disagree with you? That is legal you know!