WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Four months after his bitter election defeat, a reflective Mitt Romney said it “kills” him not to be president and admitted mistakes were made in his losing White House campaign - particularly his failure to win over minority voters.
In his first television interview since November’s loss to President Barack Obama, Romney leveled a fresh blast of criticism at Obama for failing to lead and putting politics ahead of results in the confrontation with congressional Republicans over the budget and spending cuts.
“It kills me not to be there, not to be in the White House doing what needs to be done,” Romney said in an interview on the “Fox News Sunday” program, adding that Obama was still campaigning rather than bringing people together to craft a deal.
“I don’t see that kind of leadership happening right now,” the 2012 Republican presidential candidate said. “The hardest thing about losing is watching this critical moment, this golden moment slip away with politics.”
Romney’s interview was the first step in a slow public re-entry for the former Massachusetts governor, who has been largely secluded at his southern California home with his wife Ann since the November loss.
In two weeks, Romney will make his first public speech since the election, to a conference of conservative activists in Washington.
In the Fox interview, taped last week and aired on Sunday, Romney mostly avoided questions about the heavy criticism he has received from his fellow Republicans for running a lackluster and gaffe-prone campaign.
“I don’t spend my life looking back,” Romney said, adding he would not run again but he would still be active in public life.
He said he should have done a better job in appealing to minority voters including blacks and Hispanics, calling his failure “a real mistake.”
Romney, who called for “self-deportation” of illegal immigrants during the Republican primaries, lost the vote of more than seven of every 10 Hispanics to Obama. Most of the illegal immigrants in the United States are Hispanics.
‘TWISTED AND DISTORTED’
Romney also said he regretted his wording in secretly recorded remarks at a Florida fund-raiser about the “47 percent” of Americans who were dependent on government and would never vote for him.
“It’s not what I meant. I didn’t express myself as I wished I would have,” Romney said.
“When you speak in private you don’t spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted, and it could come out wrong and be used,” he said. “That hurt. There’s no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.”
Romney said he still planned to speak out on issues and to help Republicans going forward, although he said that “I recognize that as the guy who lost the election, I‘m not in a position to tell everybody else how to win.”
Romney said he was convinced he was headed to victory in November until early on election night, when he saw the first exit polls showing a tight race in Florida, where he expected to do well. By the time the “disappointing” results from Ohio began to come in he knew it was over, he said.
“It’s hard. It’s emotional. I mean, there was such passion in the people who were helping us. I just felt, you know, we have really let them down,” he said.
Romney refused to criticize Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey for praising Obama and joining the president on a tour of storm damage in the state one week before the election. Some Republicans have criticized Christie for giving a boost to Obama in the campaign’s final days.
“Chris was doing what he thought was best for the people of his state,” Romney said. “I lost my election because of my campaign, not because of what anybody else did.”
Romney said he and his wife, who also participated in the interview, were spending more time with their grandchildren and slowly adjusting to life after a presidential campaign.
“We were on a roller coaster, exciting and thrilling, ups and downs,” he said. “But the ride ends, and then you get off.”
Ann Romney said she blamed the media for unfairly treating her husband. The portrayals of them as rich and out-of-touch kept the public from getting “to know Mitt for who he was.”
While she shed tears after the loss, she said, “I‘m mostly over it. But not completely.”
Editing by Will Dunham