Will Romney charm conservatives at CPAC?
I doubt very much whether Romney will be greeted with open arms. But attendees at CPAC have a history of being respectful and willing to listen to candidates they don't support.
In 2008, John McCain was greeted warmly, if not enthusiastically when he came to speak. Will Romney get the same treatement?
When Romney speaks at CPAC - two hours after Santorum addresses the same crowd - he faces a tough task: He must assuage doubts that he's a bona fide conservative with broad appeal among the Republican base, without tacking so far to the right that he appears disingenuous or hands President Obama attack lines to use against him in a general election.
In the audience will be a high-octane crowd of party insiders, many of whom are deeply suspicious of the former governor of Massachusetts, whose state has legalized gay marriage, and passed healthcare reform strikingly similar to that of Obama while Romney was governor. And, as his GOP rivals love to point out, he was for abortion rights before he was against them.
"He needs to have a 'come to Jesus' moment on abortion where he says why he was wrong before and how his position evolved - as authentically as he possibly can," said Craig Smith, a former speechwriter for Presidents Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush. "Then he should argue he's the only one who can beat Obama. I'd beat up on Obama a lot to end the speech."
Romney has addressed questions about his stance on abortion, admitting in debates he changed his mind on the issue, and has reiterated that while he's against gay marriage, he doesn't want gays to face discrimination.
Should he even mention Romneycare? Avoiding the issue will probably save him a good razzing from the crowd, but reveal him a political coward for not facing up to the issue. He will bring it up - no doubt trying to convince the crowd that his health insurance program does not resemble Obamacare - probably in the context of promising to repeal the ACA.
He might have been able to avoid the abortion issue if Obama hadn't declared war on Catholics over contraception. Here too, he will run into trouble with the crowd.
Bottom line; it won't be friendly territory but it probably won't be a disaster either. It is a political chore for Romney - one that he can't avoid and must make the best of.