Scottsdale, Arizona (CNN) - With the Republican primary fight comfortably in his rear view mirror, Mitt Romney made an appeal for party unity Friday in a speech to GOP leaders from around the country.
While Romney was careful not to declare himself the nominee in his remarks to a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Arizona – “We haven’t won yet,” he quipped – his remarks betrayed an unmistakable confidence.
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He spoke about the GOP race in past tense, praising all of his opponents, current and former, by name.
“Let me also commend the people who had the courage to run for president on our side of the aisle this year,” Romney said. “Some still running, some have gotten out of the race, but each contributed to the process. Each of them campaigned in an aggressive and dynamic way to spread our message of conservatism, and each is going to play a vital role in making sure that we win in November.”
Romney devoted most of his speech to attacking President Barack Obama’s record and vowing to chart a very different course as president.
“We have to make sure that we get off this road where more and more people are stuck into poverty, where it’s tougher and tougher to be in the middle class, where gasoline prices go higher and higher, where the unions are driving what’s happening in our schools,” he said. “This is a very difficult road we’re on. It’s time we’re going to get off it.”
Romney might not have the nomination officially sewn up, but the loud ovation that greeted him was a hint that GOP leaders were ready to join him for the fight.
“I thought it was a winning message,” said Tennessee GOP Chairman Chris Devaney, whose party rules forbid him from endorsing candidates. “He was well received today by the members of the committee and I think a message like that will enable us to defeat Obama in the fall.”
Prior to the speech, over 100 RNC members signed pledges to support Romney as “superdelegates” to the Republican National Convention in August. Many of them posed for pictures with the candidate in a photo line.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, who clashed fiercely with Romney during the 2008 Republican race but is supporting him in 2012, spoke before Romney and said the GOP is unified behind him.
“I am so gratified to see our party come together into a solid team that is going to elect him President of the United States,” he said.
He sharply criticized Obama with what he called “straight talk,” calling the economy “broken” and saying U.S. relations with Israel have “never been worse.”
McCain dismissed Democratic claims that Arizona, with its large Hispanic population, will vote for Obama in November. But he said the general election will be hard fought.
“I believe we are going to be up late on election night,” McCain said.