Reflecting on his 12-percentage-point loss to Gingrich in South Carolina, Romney said campaign officials realized they had not responded aggressively enough to the efforts by his rivals, including the former lawmaker, to raise questions about his conservative credentials and his private-sector experience at a venture capital firm.
"If we're successful here, it'll be pretty clear that when attacked you have to respond and you can't let charges go unanswered," Romney told reporters Tuesday when asked what he had learned from his South Carolina defeat. He added that "some weeks in politics are good and some are not."
"It so happened that there was a recount in Iowa when I was in South Carolina and what was a win became a loss in Iowa and a couple of other things -- Rick Perry dropped out and supported Speaker Gingrich, he [Gingrich] had a couple of good confrontations with moderators at the debates and when those things happened, he got a good boost," Romney said. "I needed to make sure that instead of being outgunned in terms of attacks that I responded aggressively. I think I have and hopefully that will serve me well here."
Romney acknowledged that he still has work to do courting conservative Republican voters who have been reluctant to back his campaign. Refuting Gingrich's contention that he is a "Massachusetts moderate" who has not been a consistent voice for the principles of the Republican Party, Romney noted his efforts to cut state spending as governor, and alluded to his conversion from being a supporter of abortion rights to an opponent.
"I was in a state where being a social conservative was not easy," he said, recounting how he changed his views on abortion as he weighed a bill on embryonic stem cell research. "When people go out and say things about my record that aren't accurate, why, that would create an impression that I have to work hard to correct."
Speaking to reporters after joining volunteers at his phone bank, Romney argued that Florida would serve a general-election test -- "a pretty good indication of your prospects nationally" -- because of its large population of retirees from across the nation, as well as its sizable bloc of Latino voters. (Only Republicans, however, are permitted to vote in the primary).
In a perfectly orchestrated photo-op, the candidate greeted volunteers such as retired stockbroker Diane Parker, who told him she'd been wearing the same blue "Romney for President" T-shirt for a month as she walked precincts for him here. In jest, Romney backed up a few feet as though he could smell the shirt before thanking her for her help.
Among Romney's backers at his headquarters was Florida Atty. Gen. Pam Bondi, who told the candidate he had a "lot of good lawyers" campaigning on his behalf.
"I hope we don't need a recount," Romney said to Bondi, alluding to Florida's epic presidential recount in 2000.
"We're not going to be close, Governor," Bondi replied, predicting a win. "You're not even going to be close."