[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/02/19/art.ashcroft.file.gi.jpg caption="John Ashcroft returned to the spotlight Friday at CPAC."]Washington (CNN) - Former Attorney General John Ashcroft warned conservatives against overconfidence Friday during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
"I think I overheard someone whispering the reason why Ashcroft was brought to the conference. You see, Ashcroft is the only person ever to lose his Senate seat to a deceased opponent. And he is here to keep the conservatives from getting overconfident too early for the 2010 elections." Ashcroft joked. "Let me say to you don't get overconfident too early."
In 2000, Ashcroft, then a senator from Missouri, lost his re-election race to deceased Gov. Mel Carnahan, who had passed away in a plane crash a month before Election Day.
During his speech to the friendly audience, the former attorney general also echoed a refrain that has become a CPAC rallying cry.
"Keep working hard too long and we will celebrate the victory – not just a victory for conservatives or not just a victory for Republicans, but a victory for the United States of America and for freedom at the end of this year," Ashcroft encouraged the crowd. "Keep the intensity up and keep the energy up."
Ashcroft also earned applause with a not-so-subtle dig at the Obama administration's counterterrorism policies.
"If you refuse to call a war a war, you are unlikely to be able to defend it successfully," said Ashcroft. "If the terrorist is making war on you, and you refuse to confess that you are at war with the terrorist, when you make a response, you might limit your response improperly."
Ashcroft has largely avoided the political circuit since stepping down as attorney general, but was at CPAC to receive the "Defender of the Constitution Award."