Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney yesterday urged his party's 2016 hopefuls to avoid what he called the "greatest failure" of his 2012 bid -- his inability to connect with minority voters.

Speaking to more than 1,000 people at the Long Island Association's spring luncheon at Crest Hollow Country Club in Woodbury, Romney said the typical GOP primary, which attracts largely white, conservative voters, does not encourage candidates to reach out to a more diverse voter base.

"If you're running for the Republican nomination, you're not going to spend your time in Latino communities, in African-American communities because they won't be in your primary helping you get the nomination," Romney said. "So we look like we're ignoring minority communities until the very end. That doesn't help."

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Romney, Massachusetts' governor from 2003 to 2007, lost the 2012 election to President Barack Obama. He unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination in 2008, and said in January that he wouldn't run again.

His 2012 run was marred by the release of secretly recorded comments he made at a private fundraiser that characterized 47 percent of voters as non-taxpayers dependent on government services who would support Obama.

In an 80-minute discussion with LIA president Kevin Law, Romney didn't specifically cite the controversy. But he said he failed to communicate effectively to minorities that the GOP "is the party that creates the greatest opportunity for them to have higher wages and a better future for their kids.

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"This is something we have to do, and do in a better way," Romney said. "And I think our next nominee will recognize, and make a greater effort."

Romney added: "I'm going to talk to the people who are running for president on my side and say, 'Guys, you've got to spend some of your time from the very beginning working in minority communities.' "

Romney steered clear of anointing anyone as the GOP front-runner, but was complimentary about possible candidates including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who on Monday announced his formal candidacy.

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Romney said that while the Republican field is open, Democrats appear to be lining up behind former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Romney expressed optimism that the GOP primaries would strengthen, not damage, the party's eventual nominee.

"I certainly look forward to the fact that the Democratic debates will be Hillary and one or two people who want to be her . . . [vice president] debating," Romney said to laughter.

"The Republican debates will be 14 or 15 people, a lot of energy, very different visions about where the country should be going, a lot of interest, and whoever wins will have a big head of enthusiasm, energy and following," Romney said. "I like that setup."Romney capped his remarks by assuring Law he wouldn't reconsider his decision against another presidential run.

"I am not going to become our nominee," he said, "but I will work for our nominee."

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The crowd at the luncheon included Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray and Islip Town Supervisor Angie Carpenter, all Republicans, and Democratic acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas.

LIA officials didn't say how much they paid Romney to appear.