MESA, Ariz. -- Returning to the campaign trail for the first time since claiming small, if welcome, victories in Maine and at the CPAC straw poll, Mitt Romney tonight unveiled a retooled stump speech in which he drew broad biographical contrasts with his Republican rivals, and devoted more time than usual to his record as Massachusetts governor.
"I'm sure there are some issues here and there where we can point out distinctions," Romney said of his rivals for the GOP nomination. "But perhaps the greatest distinction is what we've done during our lives, our life experiences ... Congressman Paul was a doctor, then went into government, but the other guys have spent their life entirely in government, and in my view it's helpful to have been involved in two businesses, an Olympics and a state ... and to have a chance to run those as an executive."
"We elected in President Obama someone who had never run anything, who had never been a leader. We're not going to do that in the Republican Party. Let's not nominate someone who hasn't done anything and has not been a leader," Romney continued.
Romney's speech tonight before a crowd of at least two thousand vocal supporters outside Phoenix seemed to build on his address to the CPAC conference in Washington last week, in which he looked to bolster his conservative credentials in large part by highlighting elements of his record as governor of Massachusetts, which traditionally takes a back seat on the stump to his record as a businessman.
Romney ran through a laundry list of accomplishments from his tenure as Massachusetts governor, including everything from balancing budgets and improving the school system -- to more controversial battles like those over illegal immigration and same-sex marriage, which Massachusetts' Supreme Court legalized during Romney's term.
"I led the fight to get an amendment to our constitution to reverse that ruling," Romney said of the court's decision to allow same sex marriage, echoing his CPAC speech. "We missed by one vote. Even in a legislature that's 85 percent Democrat. But we went to make sure that we didn't have our same sex marriage go throughout the country and we were able to enforce -- I think it was a 1913 law -- that kept Massachusetts from becoming the Las Vegas of same sex marriage."
""We made sure we enforced immigration laws by empowering our state police to have the capacity to work with ICE to get those who are here illegally out of our state," Romney told the crowd here to loud applause. That policy, however, was never implemented, as the incoming Democratic administration quickly repealed it after Romney left office.
Romney's speech tonight did not just include new thematic elements, but also continued Romney's news-of-the-day attacks on President Obama. Today, it was the budget in his crosshairs.
"He unfortunately came out with another trillion dollar deficit," Romney said over the boos of the crowd." And if I recall, he said back in his election he said that he was going to cut in half the deficit by the end of the first term. Well he did just the opposite - he doubled it by the end of his first term."
One element of Romney's stump speech not to change? His recitation of his favorite lyrics of "America the Beautiful," which the audience seemed to be expecting. As Romney began to talk about the song, several members of the crowd shouted loudly: "Sing it!