Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at the 38th annual Conservative… (Reuters )
WASHINGTON -- Steaming toward a White House bid, Mitt Romney addressed CPAC on its second day Friday, charging that Barack Obama has failed to lead on national security and the economy, calling him a "weak president."
Romney was introduced by his wife, Ann, who in essence made his long-expected entry in the 2012 presidential field official by saying she hoped to see him elected.
The former Massachusetts governor told a packed hotel ballroom at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "an uncertain world has been made more dangerous by the lack of clear direction."
On the economy, Romney accused Obama of a lack of focus. "The president who took office on January 20th, 2009, should have had one central mission -- put Americans back to work, fight for every job," he said. "Because every job is a paycheck and paychecks fuel Americans' dreams."
The president, he said, had offered "European-style solutions" to fix the moribund economy.
"The right answer is not to believe in European solutions," Romney said. "The right answer is to believe in America -- to believe in free enterprise, capitalism, limited government, federalism -- and to believe in the Constitution, as it was written and intended by the founders."
Romney mocked Obama's purported move to the center of the political spectrum, saying "it's going to take more than new rhetoric to put Americans back to work -- it's going to take a new president."
Strikingly, even as protesters in Cairo celebrated the departure of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Romney, who had called for Mubarak's exit, did not mention the crisis.
Even absent an official announcement about his political plans, Romney's intentions have been transparent for some time. At one point, when he said, "if I decide to run for president," some in the crowd chortled.
Like other potential candidates, Romney brought in scores of supporters, from college-aged backers to the D.C. lobbyists who advised him in 2008 and are gearing up to do so again.
The rest of the room was supportive, if not wildly enthusiastic. Romney has had an ongoing credibility issue with some conservatives who have accused him of changing his political stripes when convenient. Tellingly, he scarcely mentioned the healthcare overhaul legislation, a popular target here, as he was an architect of a similar bill when governor of Massachusetts.
Instead, he stayed with what is likely to be the core message of his presidential campaign: that he has unmatched experience in economic matters, given his work as a businessman, venture capitalist and organizer of the 2002 Olympics.
"Fifteen million Americans are out of work. And millions and millions more can't find the good-paying jobs they long for and deserve," he said. "You've seen the heartbreaking photos and videos of the job fairs around the country, where thousands show up to stand in line all day just to have a chance to compete for a few job openings that probably aren't as good as the job they held two years ago. These job fairs and unemployment lines are President Obama's Hoovervilles."
Romney's address kicked off what is expected to a steady wave of possible presidential aspirants Friday. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels are all scheduled to speak.
Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian from Texas who won the presidential straw poll here last year, will also speak -- and likely will receive the warmest reception of all.
Paul West of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.