Image: Mitt Romney
Cliff Owen  /  AP
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).
updated 2/18/2010 5:11:38 PM ET 2010-02-18T22:11:38

Republican Mitt Romney blistered President Barack Obama for a squandered first year of policy failures and broken promises on Thursday, informally auditioning before a key part of the GOP base for the chance to challenge the Democrat in 2012.

"President Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and their team have failed the American people, and that is why their majority will be out the door," Romney told a gathering of conservatives, a certain critical constituency in the upcoming Republican primary fight.

"When it comes to pinning blame, pin the tail on the donkeys," Romney quipped — and this partisan crowd ate it up.

Conservatives attending the annual Conservative Political Action Conference also heartily cheered at several other points during Romney's speech. And they went wild when newly elected Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., made a surprise appearance to introduce Romney, whose advisers helped orchestrate Brown's upset victory last month.

"He was the only one behind pushing me along to try to make a difference," Brown said of Romney, "one of the Republican Party's bright lights."

Brown, beloved by conservatives and "tea party" activists despite his moderate stances on social issues, brings Romney credibility with a constituency that had viewed the former governor skeptically during his failed 2008 bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

Noting as much, Romney said: "As a Massachusetts man, who, like my fellow Bay-staters, has over the years, been understandably regarded somewhat suspiciously in gatherings like this, let me take just a moment" to rejoice in a Scott Brown victory.

Romney hasn't decided whether to run for president again but he's laying the groundwork. He's seen by observers as the most formidable Republican, given that he's run before and the GOP has a history of nominating the loser of the last nomination fight. He withdrew from the GOP fight two years ago before the same audience he spoke to Thursday, effectively ceding the nomination to John McCain.

Open Senate seats Other potential 2012 candidates speaking this year to the conservative gathering include: Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

In a speech that was part indictment of Obama's presidency and part pep talk to conservatives, Romney blasted Obama for "his failure to re-ignite the economy" — even though there are signs of growth.

"He has prolonged the recession, expanded the pain of unemployment, and added to the burden of debt we will leave future generations," Romney said.

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Romney argued that Obama broke his promises of transparency and a new kind of politics. And Romney charged Obama with "the most blatant and reprehensible manifestation of political payoff in modern memory" by cutting a health care deal with unions.

Pumping up the GOP, Romney said: "The people of America are looking to conservatives for leadership, and we must not fail them."

He said conservatives would strengthen the economy, U.S. security, and the nation's families, though he acknowledged that not everything on the agenda is popular.

Still, he said: "The American people have shown that they are ready for truth to trump hope. The truth is that government is not the solution to all our problems."

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