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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
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And I'm Melissa Block. Mitt Romney returned to the national stage today. At the CPAC convention just outside Washington, D.C., Romney gave his first political speech since losing the presidential election. His audience was a group of conservative activists and as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports, they gave Romney an effusive reception.
ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: Mitt Romney did not look like a man with a huge weight off his shoulders. The only sign that he's been relaxing was his deep tan from the California sun. He's been spending most of the winter with family at his house in La Jolla. The former presidential candidate looked wistful and visibly emotional as he took the stage to the campaign theme song that he heard countless times over the last year.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "BORN FREE")
KID ROCK: I was born free. Born free...
SHAPIRO: Romney waved to the standing, cheering audience and put his hand over his heart. He didn't even open with a joke.
MITT ROMNEY: You touched my heart again. Thank you so very much. What a sight you are.
SHAPIRO: Election Day was the last time Romney addressed a crowd like this. That night, he was shocked and exhausted, his speech thrown together at the last minute. Today's address felt almost like the actual concession speech.
ROMNEY: Of course I left the race disappointed that I didn't win. But I also left honored and humbled to have represented the values we believe in and to speak for so many good and decent people.
SHAPIRO: He looked back, telling stories of ordinary and famous people he met on the campaign trail and he sounded humble.
ROMNEY: As someone who just lost the last election, I'm probably not in the best position to chart the course for the next one.
SHAPIRO: Still, Romney dismissed people who are writing obituaries for the Republican Party. He said, I utterly reject pessimism. And he said his party should find hope in state houses around the country, where Republicans now hold 30 governor's offices.
ROMNEY: They're winning elections, but more importantly, they're solving problems.
SHAPIRO: At the end of this 15-minute speech, Romney nodded to some of the themes from his campaign - freedom, debt, gridlock. Not long ago, he believed he would be tackling those challenges from the White House. Now, Romney says he won't run for office again, but today he promised not to withdraw from public life.
ROMNEY: I'm sorry I won't be your president, but I will be your co-worker and I'll work shoulder to shoulder alongside you.
SHAPIRO: The audience jumped to its feet with a roaring cheer. Romney wrapped up with thanks as his campaign song pumped back over the speakers one last time. He stood on the stage waving before he finally turned around and walked away. Ari Shapiro, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.