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Romney returns to national stage, if only briefly

Mitt Romney is stepping back onto the national stage - if only briefly.

The former Republican presidential candidate criticized President Barack Obama's leadership in an interview aired on March 1 on Fox News, his first public comments after nearly four months in seclusion at his home in Southern California. He was scheduled to deliver his first post-election speech later in the month at the Conservative Political Action Conference – better known as CPAC – in Washington.

Romney said on March 1 that Obama has been "flying around the country and berating Republicans and blaming and pointing" instead of preventing Washington's latest budget crisis.

His re-emergence may be short-lived.

Former aides describe this month's activity as a thank-you tour of sorts designed to close out a high-profile political career that spanned a decade. And the Republican Party isn't exactly clamoring for his return.

A handful of Republican governors who aggressively supported Romney's presidential bid last fall offered lukewarm responses in recent days to the question of Romney's future role in the GOP. And conservative leaders suggest they're ready for a new era in Republican politics that doesn't include the former Massachusetts governor.

"He has every right to be involved. And certainly he gave a lot for the cause," said Tim Phillips, president of the national conservative group Americans for Prosperity. "But most of the movement is wanting to look forward. They want to look forward to the next generation of leaders."

Without a public office or a prominent position in the private sector, Romney lacks a ready platform.

The last two losing presidential candidates, Republican John McCain in 2008 and Democrat John Kerry in 2004, eased their way back into national politics through the Senate seats they still held. After his loss, former Vice President Al Gore appeared in a documentary film about climate change and became an outspoken advocate for environmental protections.

But almost immediately after his defeat last November, Romney retreated to the privacy of his Southern California home. He surfaced in the national media in recent months only in photographs such as those showing him pumping gas, enjoying a day out with his family at Disneyland and shopping at Costco.

In his goodbye message to staffers inside his Boston headquarters last November, Romney promised to remain an active voice in the Republican Party. Four months later, former aides say that he's more likely to play a quieter role focused on fundraising, while using his status to help elevate issues from time to time.

"We were on a roller coaster, exciting and thrilling, ups and downs. But the ride ends. And then you get off," Romney told Fox News in an interview taped Thursday in California. "And it's not like, `Oh, can't we be on a roller coaster the rest of our life?' It's like, `No, the ride's over.'"

Several Republican governors, already jockeying to fill a leadership vacuum in an evolving GOP, offered reserved responses when asked during last weekend's meeting of the National Governors Association about Romney's re-emergence.

"We need as many voices for conservative reform and leadership as possible," said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, among those Republicans thought to be weighing a 2016 presidential bid. "I welcome Governor Romney and anybody else who will help to make that message and help to take that fight."

Another possible GOP presidential contender, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, said "the jury's out" as to what role Romney could play.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, another Republican, was more enthusiastic. She said Romney has "a power in his voice that we want to see continue."

There is little updated polling on Romney's popularity, but a Bloomberg poll last December found that just 30 percent of Americans rated him as excellent or good to help the Republican Party figure out how to win more races, including the presidency.

Some Republicans suggest that Romney's greatest value to his party may be his vast fundraising network. His last presidential campaign raised more than $446 million.

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