Conservatives Boasting New Sense of Energy at Values Voters Summit
By Perry Bacon Jr.
When conservative activists met two years ago at their Values Voters Summit, they arrived frustrated, unable to unify around a presidential candidate who they both liked and believed could be elected president.
In Washington, conservatives now face much bigger challenges than they did in 2007: A Democrat now occupies the White House, Democrats hold much larger majorities in Congress, and many of the top legislative priorities for social conservatives, such as a federal ban on same-sex marriage, are not even on the table for discussion.
Nevertheless, as this year's summit kicked off Friday at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, the crowd seemed energized. They slammed the president's health-care overhaul as "Obamacare," implored Republican members of Congress to oppose it as an unconstitutional use of federal power, and applauded loudly as speakers mentioned the large turnout at last weekend's march on Washington.
"We're winning the argument," declared Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in his speech to the conference.
Referring to health care, McConnell said, "our impact on the debate is undeniable. It's impossible to deny the crowds we saw in August or last week on the National Mall -- despite the best efforts of many in the mainstream media to dismiss the critics. Today, more Americans now oppose the Democrats' plan than support it."
(Some polls back McConnell's assertion, while others suggest a plurality of Americans back the Obama health care effort)
This year's event, like much of the GOP activity this year, will feature both organizing against Obama and conservatives jockeying among themselves to define the party's future.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate, spoke to the crowd early Friday, and three others considered potential 2012 candidates, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (Minn.), former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum will speak at the conference ahead of the release of an informal straw poll.
That result will test who is the most popular potential candidate among the hundreds of activists at the event, and it is anxiously watched by political mavens as a test of who among prospective 2012 presidential candidates has the early lead among the Republican base.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Rep. Ron Paul (Tex.), Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will also be on the ballot, creating the possibility of candidates who actually showed up to address the group lagging those who did not appear.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), one of the most vocal conservatives in the House, urged the attendees to call their representatives in Congress and demand that the Obama administration not fund or work with the progressive group ACORN, while McConnell pledged to the group he would look to block any portion of the health-care legislation that would fund abortions.
Posted at 4:31 PM ET on Sep 18, 2009
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