Presidential candidate Mitt Romney had a simple message for the most skeptical conservative activists gathered at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday: I’m one of you.
"My family, my faith, my businesses -- I know conservatism because I have lived conservatism," Romney said in his speech at CPAC.
In seeking to differentiate himself from his GOP rivals, Romney said his background matters greatly as Republican voters decide whom to support, since all the candidates share the same basic right-leaning beliefs and determination to oust President Obama.
"What distinguishes us from one another is not our opposition to President Obama, or even our support of conservative convictions," he said. "What distinguishes us is the nature of our life's experience. Our perspective. Our judgment."
He drew applause when he said he "fought against long odds in a deep blue state" as Massachusetts' governor and laughter when he alluded to former President Bill Clinton's youthful dalliance with marijuana in stressing his credentials as an executive.
"I served in government, but I didn't inhale. I'm still a business guy," he said. "That experience -- that experience of slimming down, cutting, eliminating, I want to take that to Washington. I want to get my hands on Washington, DC."
Romney also trained his fire on the Obama administration, calling it a "last gasp of liberalism's great failure."
He did not mention his fellow contenders in the increasingly heated race for the Republican nomination by name, but decried “creatures of Washington” — a thinly veiled reference to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
“I happen to be the only candidate in this race, Republican or Democrat, who has never worked a day in Washington,” Romney said, omitting his unsuccessful Senate bid against Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., in 1994. “I don't have old scores to settle or decades of cloakroom deals that I have to defend. Now, as conservatives, you've learned to be skeptical of this city and its politicians, and I think you're right.”