SALT LAKE CITY — As he considers a third presidential campaign, Mitt Romney said Wednesday night that one of the country’s biggest challenges is climate change and that global solutions are needed to combat it.
“I’m one of those Republicans who thinks we are getting warmer and that we contribute to that,” he said.
The 2012 Republican presidential nominee spoke to a sold-out crowd of about 3,000 at an investment management conference. It was his second public address since privately telling potential donors two weeks ago that he’s considering seeking the presidency in 2016.
Romney didn’t address a possible campaign at the event, but he used his 30-minute speech to lay out what appeared to be a populist platform. While hitting familiar Republican points criticizing the size of the federal debt, Romney at times sounded like a Democrat, calling for President Barack Obama and other leaders in Washington to act on climate change, poverty and education.
His evolving platform comes as he works to reshape his image after consecutive presidential defeats. He spent little time talking about poverty, the middle class or climate change in a 2012 campaign in which opponents cast him as an out-of-touch millionaire. But in public and private conversations in recent weeks he has focused on poverty, perhaps above all, a dramatic shift for the former private-equity executive.
Romney had previously acknowledged that climate change is real, noting in his 2010 book that “human activity is a contributing factor.” But he questioned the extent to which man was contributing to the warming of the planet and said throughout his 2012 campaign that America shouldn’t spend significant resources combatting the problem.
Romney said Wednesday night that federal leaders have failed to enact global agreements needed to tackle the problem.
The former Massachusetts governor also criticized Obama’s State of the Union address, saying the president had minimized the threat of radical, violent jihadism and terror attacks in Paris.
“This is a very serious threat the world faces,” he said. “And to minimize that, and sort of brush it aside with a few minutes of discussion, I thought was disappointing.”
Romney said a growing education gap is one of the country’s biggest challenges and suggested that teacher pay should be raised.
At times during the speech, he appeared equal parts candidate and economics professor, gesturing from behind a podium to a projected slideshow of graphs and pie charts of the federal debt and budget.
Before the speech — tickets were sold to the public — Romney spoke to a private dinner of about 130 clients of Diversify Inc., the investment firm that sponsored the event. Tyler Fagergren, a manager with the firm, said people asked Romney questions about the economy and investment but were not allowed to ask about a possible 2016 campaign.
Romney told the larger audience that he’s honored to be a Utah resident now. He’s built a home in an upscale Salt Lake City suburb and registered late last year as a Utah voter.
Associated Press writer Steve Peoples in Washington contributed to this report.