Though the patriotic red, white, and blue has given way to a more professional shade of black, this year's Conservative Political Action Conference crowd has proven to have many of the same soft spots as the Tea Party rallies of the summer. The potential presidential hopefuls seem to have that in mind as they use their rhetoric-packed, anti-Obama speeches as a jumpstart to their runs for the White House in 2012. The race's assumed front runner, Former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney, was the first potential contender to take the stage today, the second day of the three-day conference.
Romney appeared comfortable and confident as he delivered his speech, which was as much a string of punchlines targeting President Obama as it was his vision for the future.
Before calling him "a weak president" and taking digs at his Nobel Peace Prize and his foreign policy, Romney chided Obama for the lack of changes he's made during his administration. "What we're watching is not Brave New World, what we're watching is Groundhog Day," he quipped.
Romney continued his short speech taking shots at how Obama has handled the economy, calling the president's policies "the most expensive failed social experiment in modern history." And like potential candidates that spoke before him on Thursday, Romney echoed common phrases like "land of opportunity," "spirit of enterprise," and "exceptional nation," focusing on his faith in American values. "I don't apologize for America because I believe in America," he said after referencing Obama's lean toward European-style polices.
Near the end of his speech, an "if" drew as much cheers and laughter as his actual jokes, when he told the room what would happen "if [he] were to decide to run for president." The crowd's support for his candidacy was apparent.
Romney's speech followed a handful of others by politicians whose names have been suggested as possible entrants for the nomination battle. Yesterday, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Sen. Rick Santorum, and businessman and reality TV star Donald Trump addressed the CPAC audience, along with a number of upcoming GOP stars like Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan.
With the exception of Trump, who said that last year's CPAC straw poll winner, libertarian Texas Rep. Ron Paul, had "zero chance" of winning the presidency, most speakers stayed on message and kept the crowds cheering, with mentions of "American exceptionalism" and props to GOP hero Ronald Reagan and his famous vision for a "shining city on the hill." Likewise, jabs at the president's spending record and big government approach were in high supply.
Later today, more potential GOP players are scheduled to speak, including South Dakota Sen. John Thune, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Rep. Ron Paul, and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. Tomorrow, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is also slated.
CPAC is being held in Washington, DC, and is sponsored by the American Conservative Union and other conservative groups.