Washington (CNN) – Mitt Romney met quietly with a small group of conservative leaders in Washington on Thursday in an effort to reassure Republicans who remain skeptical about his candidacy, CNN has learned.
The Romney campaign arranged a "mix and mingle" session for the candidate to meet with conservatives Thursday afternoon at the Marriott Wardman Park, where the annual Conservative Political Action Conference is being held.
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The meeting, convened in a presidential suite, was billed as "a private reception for conservative leaders," according to a copy of the invitation obtained by CNN.
Romney huddled with a group of 30 people - which included officials from the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union along with some Republican donors - for about an hour, one participant told CNN.
Romney is slated to address CPAC Friday along with his two main rivals for the GOP nomination, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.
Thursday's reception came in the wake of Romney's three losses this week in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, stumbles that again raised nagging questions about the GOP frontrunner's ability to connect with the Republican base.
The participant who spoke to CNN said the meeting offered Romney a chance to make conservatives "feel comfortable" ahead of his big speech on Thursday.
A source close to Romney's campaign told CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger that Friday's speech will contain some economic messages conservatives will like, though the candidate is saving his major economic speech for February 24 in Detroit.
"Some on the right fear Romney is so uncomfortable talking about his own wealth that he would not support a reduction in marginal rates because it could be seen as pandering to the rich," said one source close to the campaign.
Romney will talk about getting federal spending down to 2008 levels, and will detail how Obama regulations are stifling economic growth. He will also touch on entitlement reform, advocating a plan along the lines of the bipartisan Ryan-Wyden framework.
The source said that on taxes, Romney may not get into as much specificity tomorrow as he will during his economy speech later this month.
The source who participated in Thursday's meeting said Romney has a keen understanding of the dynamics currently at play in the GOP race given his 2008 experience, when he emerged as the main conservative rival to John McCain in the waning days of the primary race before ending his campaign at CPAC that February.
The source said Romney has a keen understanding of the dynamics currently at play in the GOP race given his 2008 experience, when he emerged as the main conservative rival to John McCain in the waning days of the primary race before ending his campaign at CPAC that February.
This year, it's Romney who is positioned as the centrist frontrunner, with Santorum, Gingrich and Ron Paul running to his right.
"He knows exactly how people are reacting and feeling right now," the participant said of the Romney meeting. "He is going to have to give a big speech tomorrow and I think he just wanted to make some people feel comfortable. It's just an opportunity to talk to some friends."
Jim Bopp, Jr., an Indiana attorney and Republican National Committee member, is also reaching out to conservatives on Romney's behalf.
But Bopp, who endorsed Romney this week, downplayed the significance of Thursday's meeting, saying that Republicans are still getting a feel for all of the candidates, with Romney in the best position to win the nomination in the end.
"People have all sorts of reasons to support whatever candidate they choose when looking at the race," Bopp told CNN. "But I do see it coming around to Romney. I think Romney will dominate the race in the next few weeks, by Super Tuesday."