Updated at 9:20 p.m. ET on 8/6
(CNN) – It was some of the harshest criticism directed at Mitt Romney during his 2012 GOP primary battle: he was the “safe” candidate the establishment thought had the best shot of beating President Barack Obama.
And despite his general election loss, Romney still says his best advice for early state voters is to back a candidate with a viable shot of taking the White House.
“As the first-in-the-nation, you will have a big role in choosing our next nominee for president. My guess is that every one of the contenders would be better than whoever the Democrats put up. But there will only be one or perhaps two who actually could win the election in November,” Romney told New Hampshire Republicans Tuesday, according to a prepared copy of his remarks.
Romney was attending his first political fundraiser since he lost last November’s election. The event, a benefit for the state Republican Party, was held near his vacation home in Wolfeboro, along Lake Winnipesaukee.
“Think it through. Stay smart,” Romney told the group of Granite State Republicans. “Get behind those candidates; volunteer for them, campaign for them, vote for them. It is long past time for real change in Washington.”
Taking a stance against some fellow Republicans in Congress, Romney urged against using a government shutdown to defund the president's health care law. Some conservative lawmakers – including Senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Mike Lee of Utah - are using impending budget battles as leverage, vowing to oppose any measure that provides funding for the federal government that includes funding for the Affordable Care Act.
"I'm afraid that in the final analysis, Obamacare would get its funding, our party would suffer in the next elections, and the people of the nation would not be happy," Romney said. "I think there are better ways to remove Obamacare."
Following his election loss to Obama, Romney spent much of his time out of the public eye.
He recently re-entered the spotlight, holding a conference in Park City, Utah, that featured several prospective 2016 presidential candidates and other national leaders, as well as some of the GOP's major donors.
In an interview at the conference with CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger, Romney said, "we're thinking about ways that we can still make a contribution to a country we love very deeply."
Romney has also hinted at playing a role in assisting fellow Republicans in the 2014 midterm elections.
At Tuesday’s fundraiser, the former Massachusetts governor said it has been “hard to watch or read the news” in the first months of Obama’s second term.
“What we feared would happen, is happening,” Romney said, pointing to the nation’s unemployment situation and a series of overseas crises, including in Syria and Egypt.
“The administration has made things worse, not better. It is enough to make some people simply throw in the towel,” he added, before offering his own advice to the conservative donors.
“We have got to stay smart, very smart,” he said. “Our policies have to be the smartest, the best, the most promising. We cannot change policy to follow popularity; in the end, right prevails. We can change policy if new information shows us that we were wrong-of course, that's part of staying smart.”
Romney is very familiar in New Hampshire, the state that traditionally holds the nation's first presidential primary.
He is a former governor of neighboring Massachusetts and most of the southern part of the Granite state is in the Boston media market. He also spends time at his vacation home.
Romney was a big supporter and fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican Party and for GOP politicians and candidates in the state in the years leading up to his 2008 and 2012 runs for the White House.
New Hampshire is also a battleground state in the general election, and Romney kicked off his 2012 presidential campaign there. He returned numerous times to meet with voters.