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Mitt Romney speaks at CPAC 2012

The former Massachusetts governor's speech came on the heels of rival presidential candidate Rick Santorum's rousing remarks earlier in the day, when the former Pennsylvania senator repeatedly brought the enthusiastic crowd to its feet.

During his speech, Santorum drew sharp contrasts between himself and both President Obama and Romney, although he didn't mention the former Massachusetts governor by name.

Four years ago Romney got attention for announcing the end to his quest for the White House during the 2008 CPAC meeting, shocking attendees and opening the way for eventual Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.).

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GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich will also try to garner enthusiasm at the conference today. He is set to head to the main stage at 4:10 p.m. Friday.

Expectations for the three candidates are high today as they all try to coalesce conservative support and win over voters across the country. Texas Rep. Ron Paul, another candidate for the GOP nomination, opted to skip the event.

For continued coverage of Friday's events at CPAC, click here. 

—This story was updated at 2:25 p.m.

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