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Palin: Romney a 'great' candidate, not a convincing conservative

Despite a hard-charging speech over the weekend that suggested dissatisfaction with the Republican presidential primary frontrunner, Sarah Palin said Sunday that Mitt Romney "is a great candidate."

But the 2008 vice presidential candidate and Tea Party darling isn't yet convinced Romney is "instinctively" a constitutional conservative.

"I am not convinced and I don't think that the majority of GOP and independent voters are convinced," Palin told "Fox News Sunday." "And that is why you don't see Romney get over the hump. He's still in the 30-percentile mark when it comes to approval and primary wins and caucus wins. He still hasn't risen above that yet because we are not convinced."

Offering a keynote speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, Palin said Republicans need a candidate who is instinctively conservative because it's too late to be taught the fundamentals.

Elaborating on Sunday, Palin said she believes Romney is still "evolving" as a conservative after five years on the campaign trail and millions of dollars spent. But, she added, that's a high hurdle for all the candidates to demonstrate.

"He still needs to be able to articulate what his solutions are to the challenges facing America -- but not just Mitt. All four of them," she said. 

"What I want to see is that candidate and I believe that most voters in the GOP and independents, we will want to see that candidate whom we can trust will just inherently, instinctively turn right, always err on the side of conservativism, which means smaller, smarter government, more empowerment for the individual, for the private sector," Palin said.

Romney on Saturday walked away with the CPAC straw poll victory with 39 percent of the vote among the crowd attending the annual confab of conservative thought. Rick Santorum scored 31 percent while Newt Gingrich got 15 percent and Ron Paul, who didn't attend, received 12 percent. 

On Sunday, Santorum said his three victories in Colorado and his margin in the CPAC poll show that his being in the race isn't dividing the "Not Romney" vote 

"I feel very good that this is a two-person race right now, and that's how we are focused on it,"Santorum told NBC's "Meet the Press."

Meanwhile, Paul, who came in a close second to Romney in the Maine caucuses held Saturday, said the frontrunner was not conservative as a governor, but he is no less conservative than Gingrich or Santorum. 

"I think that all of them are rather typical of what's wrong with the country, you know, that they -- that they don't have firm convictions," Paul told CBS' "Face the Nation."

"I think the problem is that all three of them have represented the same system, the same status quo ... None of them talk about real spending cuts. None of them talk about real changes in monetary policy. So they're not a whole lot different. So I think when it comes down to those three, it's probably going to be management style more than anything else," Paul added.

Palin said each of the candidates has his strengths and they are able to hone them -- and deliver a more concise message -- if the race keeps going.

"Each of them I believe they are getting stronger, they're getting better and that's what competition provides and that's why I want to see the competition continue," she said. "They all have something to offer and that is why it is a good democratic process in our republic."