In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Mitt Romney's New Groove Debuts At CPAC

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Romney then launched into a speech that would be at home on the stump in Iowa or New Hampsire (and probably will be). Just before he took the stage, Democratic pollster PPP released a new poll showing Romney within two points of President Obama in a hypothetical 2012 matchup. Obama led Romney in the poll 45-43.

Romney seemed ready to take on Obama, addressing the crowd like he was already the GOP nominee.

"President Obama instituted the most anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-jobs measures we've seen in our lifetimes," he said. "He called his agenda ambitious. I call it reckless."

To contrast himself with the "big government" Obama, Romney took the tack we've seen in the past, embracing his past in corporate America as evidence that he can turn thing around in America faster and better than Obama. Romney compared corporate titans like Sam Walton, Steve Jobs and even Richard Branson to the founding fathers, claiming each had put his mark on the company he founded, as the founders of the United States did in early America.

"People shape businesses," he said. "People shape countries. America reflects the values of the people who first landed here, those who founded the nation, those who won our freedom, and those who made America the leader of the world."

Most of what he had to say was pure conservative red meat -- calls for strong national security, lower taxes and "fiscal responsibility." But Romney also mentioned Obama's swipes at the Supreme Court in his State of the Union address, a moment that may have put him at odds with his audience.

"The President found it inexplicable that the first amendment right of free speech should be guaranteed not just to labor union corporations and media corporations, but equally to all corporations, big and small," Romney said. "When it was all over, I think most Americans felt as I did: his noisy critique and bombast did not register as clear and convincingly as Justice Alito's silent lips forming these words: 'Not true!'"

But polls show that most Americans -- especially independents -- actually agree with Obama's take on the Citizens United ruling instead of Romney's take. The moment provided an interesting insight into the struggles politicians like Romney have at CPAC this year. On the one hand, he has to reach out to the classic main line conservative base that CPAC has hosted for years -- the businesspeople and social conservatives that have been the core of this gathering for years. On the other, Romney has to be careful not to raise the hackles of the Tea Partiers, most of whom proclaim themselves to be independent and are quick to attack establishment Republicans who don't pay attention.

Overall, though, Romney's speech was the kind of sound bite-heavy address we're all likely to hear a lot more of come late 2011. It's time to get ready, Romney seemed to say to his CPAC base, campaign 2012 starts now.