Atlanta (CNN) - The day after an embarrassing defeat in a trio of early voting states, Mitt Romney painted his GOP rivals as standard bearers of a Republican party that "lost its way" in recent years in Washington.
The GOP candidate, faced with a pair of doggedly persistent opponents in former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, pointed to both men's experience in the nation's capital as a disqualifying factor.
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"I think a lot of us feel that the Republican party lost its way in the past," Romney said, making reference to the tea party movement, which he said was fueled by a frustration with over-spending in Washington. "Republicans spent too much money, borrowed too much money, earmarked too much, and Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have to be held accountable."
Romney said he was the only Republican candidate who could satisfy voters' desire for change in the nation's capital, charging his rivals had "acted like Democrats" by spending too many federal dollars.
"In this race, I'm the only guy that hasn't spent time in Washington," he told reporters on an airport tarmac in Atlanta. "And Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich, they are the very Republicans who acted like Democrats. And when Republicans act like Democrats, they lose."
The proof, he said, was evident in both men's records. Santorum lost his seat in a double-digit defeat in Pennsylvania, while Romney said Gingrich "had to resign" his post as House speaker.
Romney was speaking to the press corps covering his campaign for the first time in week after his stunning losses to Santorum in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado Tuesday night.
He insisted throughout the "long process" of the GOP primary campaign, he would accumulate enough delegates to clinch the nomination. Asked whether the Tuesday losses meant Romney had not won over the conservative bloc so crucial to his success, Romney said his wins in Florida, Nevada and New Hampshire proved he had conservative support.
The former Massachusetts governor also fought back against charges from both his Democratic and Republican opponents on his stance on mandating emergency contraception in Massachusetts.
Romney said he had "fought to remove" a law that required all hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to women who were raped.
"I have steadfastly tried to honor and respect religious conscience," he said.