By Cameron Joseph - 04/13/12 07:33 PM EDT
Mitt Romney played to the partisan crowd during a speech Friday at the National Rifle Association's annual convention, where he delivered a fiery attack on President Obama's policies.
His attacks on Obama mostly focused on economic issues and the size of government, the main thrust of his campaign.
"President Obama is moving us away from our founders' vision. Instead of limited government, he's leading us towards limited freedom and limited opportunity," he said. "If we continue along this path, we’ll spend our lives filling out forms and complying with excessive regulations and pleading with political appointees for waivers, subsidies and permission.
Romney's speech focused more on the economy and personal liberty than the Second Amendment.
The presumptive GOP presidential nominee has long had a complicated relationship with the NRA, which he joined in 2006 as he was considering a bid for the presidency.
He signed a strict assault weapons ban as Massachusetts governor that year, quadrupled the cost of gun licenses in the state and advocated for strict gun controls during his 1994 Senate race. In 2007 he said that he "didn't line up 100 percent with the NRA."
On Friday he sounded a strikingly different tone. "I want to talk about this administration's assault on our freedoms," he began. Later, he blasted Obama for trying to undermine gun rights.
"If we are going to safeguard our Second Amendment, it is time to elect a president who will defend the rights President Obama ignores or minimizes. I will protect the Second Amendment rights of the American people," he said forcefully. "The right to bear arms is so plainly stated, so unambiguous, that liberals have a hard time challenging it directly. Instead, they’ve been employing every imaginable ruse and ploy to restrict it and to defeat it."
The audience strongly applauded Romney's attacks on Obama, but there was still some evidence he wasn't the crowd's favorite. As a NRA spokesman listed the conference's speakers, Rick Santorum, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former United Nations Ambassador John Bolton each got stronger applause than Romney.
Most of Romney's speech was devoted to attacking Obama on economic and religious issues rather than gun rights.
Romney tweaked Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen for her comments that his wife hadn't worked because she was a stay-at-home mom. "I happen to believe that all moms are working moms, and if you have five sons your work is never over," he said before bringing out Ann Romney for a quick comment.
Romney seemed to grow more passionate as the speech went on, and at the end ad-libbed an attack on Obama that was not in his prepared remarks. "Join me in this great cause," he said in his closing comments before adding "Let's take back America and defend our freedoms."
The audience gave the line strong applause.