GOP presidential contenders warm up for debate before Faith & Freedom crowdby John Kennedy | September 22nd, 2011
Republican presidential candidates tuned up for Thursday night’s nationally televised debate from Orlando by speaking to crowd of about 3,000 at a Faith and Freedom Coalition event.
The coalition is a Republican-allied advocacy organization founded by Ralph Reed, the former executive director of the Christian Coalition later tarnished by his involvement with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Reed told the crowd he hopes to have coalition offices in all 67 Florida counties by next year’s election, more than doubling its current number.
“We’re not going to rest until a U-Haul is pulled up in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Reed said, setting the tone for the red-meat themes that carried through most candidate speeches.
Some of the contenders layered a few religious references into their talks. Ronald Reagan also was frequently mentioned, with several candidates recalling his biblically-rooted “city on a hill” speech.
“When a people turn their back on what history and scripture says is true, that’s when a nation becomes a byword,” Michele Bachmann told the crowd.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum drew applause for assuring that, “We can build a great society from the bottom up.” Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia blistered Obama for advancing “class warfare and socialism.”
“President Obama is the best food stamp president in U.S. history,” Gingrich said. “But with your help, I would like to be the best paycheck president in U.S. history.”
The frontrunning contenders, Rick Perry and Mitt Romney, stuck to familiar campaign pitches — but threw few rhetorical bombs.
Romney ridiculed President Obama for drawing his approach to governing from European countries — possibly, he said, a product of Obama, “growing up abroad.” He also promised to, “move the country away from Obamaism.”
Texas Gov. Rick Perry praised the importance of faith and family in his life. But he also tried to skewer Obama by condemning the growing influence of the federal government, education policies, and the administration’s assurance that the economy is rebounding.
”When one-in-six Americans cannot find work, that is not an economic recovery, Mr. President, that is economic disaster,” Perry said.