Romney's strategy to court conservatives at CPAC

This is a rush transcript from "Hannity," February 9, 2012. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

SEAN HANNITY, HOST: The race for who will take on President Obama is still anybody's guess. And even though all eyes were on presidential candidate Rick Santorum earlier this week as he won all three contests, the Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, the rest of the GOP field is looking ahead to the races coming up in Michigan, Maine, Arizona and beyond.

Joining me now from Washington, presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Governor, welcome back sir. How are you?

MITT ROMNEY, R-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am terrific. Thanks, Sean. Great to be with you.

HANNITY: All right. What do you make, you had great momentum, came out of Florida, you took Nevada and Rick Santorum comes up with a hat trick. He got three states the other night. What do you make of what the volatility in the race?

ROMNEY: Well, we each chose the places that we would compete. I competed aggressively in Florida, Nevada, won both of those races. And by the way, I got a lot of delegates. He left Florida and Nevada and went off to the other states that didn't have delegates to award. He made a good showing there. We're going to have a lot of race down the road. I think part of the success was due to the fact that Speaker Gingrich really had a campaign that sort of disappeared from those states. But long way to go. I'm pleased with the delegates I've got, the wins of I got. And I hope to get a lot more.

HANNITY: All right. The headline on the Drudge Report earlier today, the gloves are off as former Senator Santorum seems to be going directly at you. It seems to be a back and forth. And is this going to be Gingrich versus Romney, Romney versus Santorum now. Do we have a shift here?

ROMNEY: Well, I think you've seen Rick Santorum get his opportunity now to be one of the leading contenders. He hasn't been as visible in the sweepstakes so far but he is certainly is now. And that means that he will be under the microscope like all the rest of us have been. And obviously, some of the things in his record are troubling, the fact that he voted five times to raise the debt ceiling without getting -- compensating reductions in federal spending, that's a problem. The fact that while he was in Washington, government spending grew by 80 percent. And the fact that he is a defender of earmarks. Look, I'm in favor of a ban on earmarks. I think spending in Washington is out of control. And I wouldn't raise the debt ceiling without getting compensating reductions in federal spending.

HANNITY: You are going to be speaking at CPAC this weekend, one of the largest gatherings of conservatives around the country. And I remember your speech by the way going back after the 2008 process. And I though, actually I remember at that time, I thought it was one of the best speeches that you gave. It seems like this is an opportunity for you because, and I had Karl Rove on the program discussing this last night. You still it seems have not been able to close the deal. And these were his words as well and his observation, with conservatives within the Republican Party. So, what will you say to them when you go to CPAC this weekend to tell these conservatives, I will govern as a conservative, you can put your trust in me?

ROMNEY: Well, of course, first of all, I note that I won among conservatives in New Hampshire, I won solidly among conservatives in Florida. Won among conservatives in Nevada, and have the most delegates in this race. So, I wouldn't say that I haven't been able to get good support from conservatives.

But secondly, what I'll say in my speech is first described in the challenge that we face as a nation, and the conservative choice that has to be brought forward. But secondly, I look at my record and describe my record as governor. Some of those things get hidden over time, people forget, but economically of course, that we balanced the budget every year. We put in place a rainy day fund of about $2 billion.

And some things that we didn't talk about a lot. We had an attack on religious liberty in Massachusetts as well. But let us say, they passed a bill for the morning after pill. Insisted the Catholic Churches provide this to their employees at universities and hospitals. I vetoed that bill. I was one of those that stood up and fought against the intrusion on religious liberty in my state. And we'll be talking about marriage as well. Obviously, the Supreme Court of my state began a process of providing for same-sex marriage. I led the charge to put in place an amendment that would reverse their decision. And we missed by one vote in the legislature to be able to proceed with that amendment.

So, I have a record that being a strong conservative on the issues that matter and I'm going to point that out when I'm together with my friends at CPAC.

HANNITY: Let me ask you more about this religious liberty issue because it'sreally becoming a bigger and bigger part of the debate in the country at it relates to the mandate that would force the Catholic Church to provide services that are -- the antithesis of their teachings, their convictions, their values and the president's going forward. You did you deal with this in Massachusetts. And I know it's come up with some of your opponents. That in the end, the health care that got passed in Massachusetts did allow for these things, but there is more to the story. I want you to explain that. You vetoed it and the Democratic legislature was able to override it?

ROMNEY: Well, actually the provision in Massachusetts is different than the one in Obamacare. And it was actually put in place prior to my becoming governor. So insurance policies in Massachusetts had similar provisions but not the same as Obama's. They had more exceptions. And that was in before I came into office. When I came into office and we started working on healthcare, I fought to remove those mandates they're called, remove those mandates from coverages. I was unsuccessful in getting the legislature to do that. Obviously, when you got a legislature that is 85 Democrat, you could understand why that could be the case.

But we saw throughout my term where liberals try and make America more secular and trying to infringe on people's rights to free religion, to be free worship of religion and the way people would choose. And I had to battle that with the morning after pill. I had to battle that with regards to embryonic stem cell research and cloning. Time and again, I had to stand up for the values that you are seeing fought on the national battlefield today.

HANNITY: We have a lot of foreign policy issues right now on the table, Governor. Number one is what I would call a hostage crisis that it's going on in Egypt. Secondly, we've got a slaughter taking place in Syria. Thirdly, we've got Iran and they're becoming very aggressive, saber rattling, continuing their pursuit of nuclear weapons. Number one, what do you think about the way the Obama administration is handling it and if you were president, what would you do differently?

ROMNEY: Well, we've got a whole series of issues there and I'm happy to discuss them if you'd like one by one, Sean.


OMNEY: But overall, the reality is that for America to be able to preserve our interests and to encourage freedom to spread around the world. America has to be strong. And we have to stand by our friends. And we have distanced ourselves from our friends under this administration. We have to show a commitment to a strong military. This president is shrinking from our military commitments. And at the same time, we have to promote our values around the world and the president was silent when there were dissident voices that took to the streets in Iran. He should have been outspoken, aggressively supporting those voices. Likewise, with the Arab Spring now turning into an Arab winter, he has been asleep at the switch. He has been ineffective in being able to promote democracy and freedom and the free exercise of personal rights in parts of the world that are obviously critical to the stability of the world.

So, this president has really failed, I think an almost every dimension of foreign policy, this president has weakened America's relative strength.

HANNITY: Yes. Well, it seems to be getting -- it's becoming a bigger issue every day, almost as big as the economy which obviously is in the forefront of people's minds. By the way, Governor, when I did see you in Nevada, your wife had not been able to have a day off for six weeks. Did you give her at least one day off?

ROMNEY: I sure did. You know, she has MS and she needs to get a little recovery from time to time. So, I said, OK, take some time off this week, go out and ride horses, which is what she's doing. But I told her to go for two weeks, but she said, Mitt, I'm coming back on Monday, I want to go to Michigan, see my friends in Michigan. She is going campaign across the state even as I bounce around the nation, you know, raising money and preparing for some states that come up down the road.

HANNITY: We always appreciate you taking time at your busy schedule. Governor, thanks so much for being with us. We'll see you out there on the campaign trail. Thank you.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Sean, good to be with you.

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