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
Out of the people listed, Ron Paul would interest me, and maybe Huckabee. The rest of them – NO WAY!
Mitt Romeney is unique among the others candidates considering a run in 2012. Though not one of them could possibly come close to being as good a President as Barack Obama Romney holds the distiction of being the only one of them with th potental to be a worse President than George W Bush. For those of you that don't think that is possible you should listen, really listen to his comments, proposals and blatherings.
So let me get this straight... he says "spending and borrowing" is morally wrong, but in the same breath criticizes the decision to prosecute intelligence agents who very well may have broken the law? Yeah. Such sound morality there...
Romney is the only chance the republicans have in 2012 to take the White House and he would aslo make a good president. I doubt that he will pass the Limbaugh test though.
The burden you are talking about was caused by the GOP remember how much we spent on false wars? looking for weapons of mass destruction? Mr. Romney do you remember a guy called Saddam ? most of the burden you are talking about went to fight him and the imaginary weapon of mass destruction! and who benefited from the war? cheney and his so called conservatist white old men!
Romney gets his speeches from Fox news. No matter how bad you want it to be or try to paint it up as, the Obama administration is not the Carter administration.
And you don't have a Regan, or "Regan Democrats" you wont.
Over the next 4 years countless young will come of age to vote. And countless old will die. Its life. And as these pre-civil rights generations die off, society will become more educated and liberal. And so will their voting tendencies.
Romney is equilivant to a big ego alone with a suit and a hairdo.
That, about, sums it up!
If Mitt Romney is SO concerned about our national debt, I would like to see him make a commitment to the following principles as he runs for President in 2012:
1. No more tax cuts for millionares, multi-millionares, and billionares.
(Basic math-a loss of necessary tax revenue contributes to an increase of our national debt.)
2. No more invasions and occupations of foreign countries, PERIOD.
(Basic math-invasions and occupations cost hundreds of billions of dollars, increasing our national debt.)
3. No union busting or national "right to work" act.
(Basic math-busting unions and "right to work" legislation will force millions of middle class workers to have to take a reduction in wages, which, will in turn, reduce the amount of taxes they will be paying. This, too, will contribute to an increase in our national debt.)
If Barack Obama turns out to be a bad President, (which I hope he doesn't) Mitt Romney is the ONLY Republican candidate out there that I would even CONSIDER voting for right now. But if, and only if, he were to promote sensible and realistic financial and econamic policies.
Tax cuts for the rich, invading and occupying foreign countries, and union busting are NOT the right policies for our country's financial and economic future.
Does Romney think The Base will be any more willing to embrace a Mormon than they were in 2008? If anything, they've become even more fanatical and hard-line about all their agendas; there's no way he'll survive the primary season because the right wingers dominate the votes in the primaries. Unless, of course, the GOP does something as stupid as they did in 2008 and a dozen or so contenders throw their hats in the ring all at once. That's the only reason McCain survived to become the nominee.
The GOP will be foolish if it falls for Romney's charade. It is essential that they nominate Ron Paul (or someone like him) in 2012.
A few thoughts for you...
Get real! You will have a better chance running as a conservative Democrat! As a Mormon, you don't have a chance against Huckabee or Pawlenty (the '12 GOP nomination 'cuz of looks)!
Your MA health care reform is not perfect but it's a lot better than anything the GOP has proposed thus far! I'd consider voting for you (hints, do not team up with Palin. Powell, yes.).
But frankly, Obama is too effective. Just watch!
- from someone who voted for Reagan & I'm not black!
Best of luck to Mr. Romney, who couldn't nominated in 2008, and won't in 2012. The religious Right won't or can't support an LDS member. I guess they don't consider him Christian enough. Tough when members of the GOP don't fit the ideal of the GOP of at least the Conservative Right?
Are these has beens at it again....Palin, Huckabee, Romney, Newt, Santorium gee why doesn't the republicans get new blood...And worst of all Phewlenty....since he ruined Minnesota, do you think he has a chance to go on to ruin the rest of America.......same old same old
Based on his current views Romney would not be elected to dog catcher in MS, and based on his previous views when he was governor in MS, Romney would never be picked by republicans to run for president. So which one is he really?
this guy is a looser. another stupid republican.
It's funny to watch Mitt kiss up to these same folks who threw him under the bus last election cycle (and they will throw him under the bus again because he is just as much "other" (Mormon) to these folks as Obama is. He can throw all the Obama bashing red meat he wants at them, and they will yell and clap and agree with him, but at the end of the day, to a majority of those in attendance, he is an "other", which is why Huckabee the sneak chose to criticize him last night at the event.
Good times to be had by all.
If people want a government lead by religious conservatives, then let's all just move to IRAN! How is that working out over there?
This man is a complete idiot if he thinks he stands a chance at winning in 2012!!! He's nothing like his father and his hypocrisy shows every time he opens his mouth!!
Romney is a Misguided Missile. :)
Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld Ruined America:
1. Lying about WMDs of Iraq.
2. Creating false intelligence report that Iraq has WMDs.
3. 4300 US Troops Died.
4. 25000 US Troops Permanently Disabled.
5. $ 3 Trillion spent on Unjustified and Misleading war.
6. No 9/11 terrorist from Iraq.
7. Unregulated Banking – Mortgage Crises – 2.5 million lost their homes.
8. No health care for 50 million.
9. No rescue relief for Katrina.
10. Bush misleading in 2008 "Our Economy is still strong".
11. Bush Stating "Mission Accomplished". Since then 3500 US Troops have died.
This is the only repug that can give Pres. Obama a fight but knowing repugs, he's going to pull a McCain and cater to the crazy of his party.
You Republicans that gave us George W. Bush for two terms FIRST need to answer for those BAD decisions before any one takes any of you seriously for criticism of President Obama. NEXT, stop LYING about President Obama, so people WILL take you seriously.
Where were Mitt and Mike when Reagan and George W were "Putting such a spirit-crushing, back-breaking debt burden on our children"?
Where was their sense of moral outrage?
Where were they when Clinton left office with a budget surplus? Fuming over Clinton's personal indiscretions, I'm guessing. Morally wrong to have an affair; morally right to take our country into massive debt.
Heckuva value system, there.
You see, folks, this isn't about what's best for the country; Romney and Huckabee only care about what's best for the GOP and their own desires for money and power.
It's not rocket science to figure this out; it's pretty obvious.
If you're wondering what kinds of "values" these Value Voters have, just look at the titles of their breakout sessions. What kind of crazy conspiracy is "Global Warming Hysteria: The New Face of the Pro-Death Agenda" about? I'd laugh if it weren't so pathetic.
Yeah, run Romney. This is the guy who lost the nomination last time after getting caught in lie after lie......after lie.
If you Republicans really want to have a chance you need to run Huckabee. He's currently the only viable possiblility against Obama. And, quite frankly, I don't think anyone has a chance against Obama three years from now anyway.
But, at least at the moment. Huckabee should be your candidate.
Of course they were light on "social values"...they don't have any!!! They would rather speak on "economics" and "security" to appease their corporate donors.
America isn't about policy; it is about saying anything to get the big bucks to buy ads to buy slanted or false advertising full of slogans and amears.