SAN DIEGO -- Mitt Romney is back on the national stage.
"Me, I'm giving some serious consideration to the future," he said Friday, standing in a cavernous hanger on the aircraft carrier USS Midway, indirectly addressing the speculation that he will run for president in 2016. "But this I know. We can win in 2016 as a party -- in the House, in the Senate and in the White House."
But on Friday, he again sounded like a candidate. He laid out a three-part potential platform that included a more aggressive foreign policy, increasing opportunity for middle-class Americans and lifting people out of poverty.
"For our party and for the nation, 2016 isn't going to be about the Obama years. It's going to be about the post-Obama era -- and in the post-Obama era, conservative principles are needed," Romney declared.
He criticized a "Hillary Clinton-Barack Obama foreign policy" that he said has made the world less safe.
And he tried to make the conservative case for lifting people into the middle class, saying that "people want to see rising wages, and they deserve them" -- a turn of phrase he didn't use on the trail in 2012.
Romney, the sometimes awkward retail candidate, was back, too.
"Gosh," he said as he took the podium, "it is like coming back to a high school reunion, all my friends -- everyone looks so young, you've lost weight." As he shook hands after the event, his chats were peppered with his trademark phrases like, "you betcha."
In the crowd were aides who had been familiar faces on the 2012 campaign trail -- David Kochel, who ran his campaign in Iowa; Lanhee Chen, who led his policy efforts; and even Rick Gorka, the traveling press secretary who became known for yelling, "kiss my a--, this is a holy site for the Polish people!" during a stressful trip abroad with the candidate.
Romney himself seemed in high spirits, and he was crowded by well-wishers who wanted to take selfies. He recognized many of the reporters who had covered his 2012 campaign and greeted them warmly.
But asked by msnbc if he wanted to run for president, Romney just smiled, laughed and turned to the next Republican waving a smartphone. "Where's the camera?" he asked.
All told, Romney has come a long way from a year ago this month, when he said, "Oh, no, no, no. No, no, no, no, no. No, no, no," when a New York Times reporter asked if he would run for president a third time.
"There's some speculation about whether I'm about to embark on a political endeavor in which I've been previously unsuccessful," he said Friday, the crowd hanging on his every word. "Let me state unequivocally that I have no intention of running for Senate in Massachusetts," he joked.
Romney's speech marked the end of the Republican National Committee's three-day winter meeting, a gathering of top party officials that had set the primary debate schedule on its official agenda.
Unofficially, the meeting was all about Mitt Romney and his potential 2016 presidential rival, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Though supporters at his speech were enthusiastic, many were privately skeptical of a third Romney bid, concerned that he wouldn't be able to remedy the mistakes that he made in 2012. And other potential candidates made allusions to bringing in newer faces.
"My hope is that the party will be looking to new faces, new ideas," said Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who addressed the RNC meeting on Thursday.
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Romney's speech in San Diego is the first in a series of upcoming public appearances. On Monday, Romney will give a speech in Indian Wells, Calif.; at the end of the month he'll give a speech in Mississippi before addressing a gathering in New York. Still unresolved: Whether Romney will attend an Iowa forum that Rep. Steve King is hosting in Des Moines, Iowa, on Jan. 24, or whether he'll appear at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington in late February.
Romney aides say that the former Massachusetts governor has a relatively quick timetable for making a decision about whether to mount a third bid for president. A key factor is his wife, Ann, who accompanied him Friday and who is said to be on board with a potential run.
"The most frequently asked question I get asked is, what does Ann think about all this," Romney said, "and she believes that people get better with experience."