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Romney urges GOP to 'learn from' mistakes he made in 2012 campaign

GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney appealed for the Republican Party to learn from the mistakes of his losing 2012 presidential campaign and, as conservatives chart their course forward, to look to GOP governors for a path to future electoral wins.

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Romney received perhaps the most enthusiastic reception yet of any speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference, with a packed auditorium offering him an extended standing ovation before he began.

He told the CPAC crowd that while he "left the race disappointed that we didn't win," he remained optimistic for future success — if the party learns from his campaign.

"We've lost races before, in the past, but those setbacks prepared us for larger victories. It's up to us to make sure that we learn from our mistakes, and my mistakes, and that we take advantage of that learning to make sure that we take back the nation, take back the White House, get the Senate and put in place conservative principles," he said.

The speech marked a reemergence of sorts for Romney, who has quietly returned to private life following his defeat. 

Many Republicans have blamed Romney for losing a winnable race to President Obama, criticizing him as a poor candidate who ran a flawed campaign. The loss caught many in the party off-guard — Romney included — due in part to faulty assumptions about turnout and mistaken polling. 

Some Republicans have also charged Romney was not conservative enough, and didn't cut a stark enough contrast to Obama. 

Speaking on the same stage just hours before Romney, former GOP presidential contender Rick Perry (R-Texas) suggested just that. He charged that Republicans hadn't nominated real conservatives in the past two elections.

"As someone who just lost the last election, I'm probably not in the best position to chart the course for the next one," Romney admitted.

"That being said, let me offer this advice. And perhaps because I'm a former governor, I would urge us all to learn the lessons that come from some of our greatest success stories, and that's 30 Republican governors across the country," he added.

The former Massachusetts governor's loss in November has sparked a party-wide recalibrating, as the GOP looks to avoid the mistakes of 2012. 

Romney said conservatives need to learn from governors like Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Bob McDonnell (R-Va.), neither of whom were invited to the conference. 

He also named Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, who are also not attending CPAC. 

"We particularly need, by the way, to hear from the governors of the blue and purple states, because those are the states we're going to have to win to be able to get back the Senate and the White House," Romney said. "And so, people like Bob McDonnell, [Wisconsin Gov.] Scott Walker, [Ohio Gov.] John Kasich, Susanna Martinez, Chris Christie, and Brian Sandoval, these are the people we've got to listen to and make sure their message is heard loud and clear across the country."

Christie and McDonnell did not receive invitations in part due to their support for an expansion of Medicare and a transportation tax, respectively, positions that are anathema to the fiscal conservatism of many of CPAC's sponsors and attendees.

Their absences reflect a debate within the GOP concerning the best path forward for the party. 

Where some Republican governors are showing an openness to certain progressive policies, Republicans in the House remain staunchly opposed to tax increases and are working to cut entitlements. Romney offered a nod, too, to that vein of the GOP.

"Now we can also learn from the examples of principle and passion and leadership that we've seen during these last few weeks here in Washington, D.C. by our Republican leaders," he said, singling out his former vice presidential nominee and fellow CPAC speaker, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a "clear and convincing voice."