Mitt Romney apologized to conservatives Friday for not winning the 2012 presidential election, but said the Republican Party will someday win again "because our cause is just and right."

"It's fashionable in some circles to be pessimistic about America, about conservative solutions, about the Republican Party, " Romney told the Conservative Political Action Conference. "I utterly reject pessimism. We may not have carried on November 7th, but we haven't lost the country we love, and we have not lost our way."

It was Romney's first speech since losing the November election to President Obama and, despite conservatives' tepid support for him during the race, they greeted him with several standing ovations and shouts of support.

"It made me sad he's not our president, to hear him speak," Elizabeth McCabe, of Stamford, Conn., said.

The CPAC audience noted that Romney appeared gracious, but also seemed melancholy.

Romney didn't mention Obama by name but made a veiled reference to the president's recent use of campaign-style rallies to push his agenda.

"The country is imperiled by mounting debt, by failing institutions, by families stressed beyond the limits, by schools failing to make the grade and by public servants who are more intent on scoring political points than they are on national victories," Romney said.

Romney told the crowd that because he lost the election, they shouldn't turn to him for advice on winning the next race, but he offered it anyway.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, said the party should turn to the 30 Republican governors who are "winning elections, but more importantly, they're solving problems, big problems, important problems."

Among those he mentioned was New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was snubbed by CPAC after he publicly praised and hugged Obama in the final weeks of the campaign.

Romney also praised his former running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, but didn't offer future leaders any specific suggestions other than to preserve the strength of America.

"It's no secret that the last century was an American century, and it's no secret that over the span of the coming century, that is not written in the stars," Romney warned. "America's pre-eminent position is not guaranteed."