Convening just a day after the Supreme Court upheld the Obama administration’s signature health care reform legislation, speaker after speaker at the third annual Western Conservative Summit in Denver last weekend said the ruling would stand as a turning point in the presidential race.
“The Court had its say on June 28. The people in this room and around this country will have their say on Nov. 6,” U.S. Rep. Cory Gardner told attendees who packed the downtown Hyatt Regency Denver over three days to hear a host of prominent conservatives light a fire under the movement.
“There is no time in our history that champions of limited government have been so greatly needed as they are right now,” Gardner added.
The conference, sponsored by Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute, drew an estimated 1,300 participants, up about 500 over last year’s gathering. The ballroom and hallways would have been even more crowded, but roughly 100 cancelled due to evacuations in the wake of the Waldo Canyon Fire in the Colorado Springs area, organizers said.
Former U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong, currently serving as president of Colorado Christian University, summed up the weekend’s theme in his opening remarks on Friday afternoon. (Like all the current and former elected officials who spoke at the conference, Armstrong is a Republican.)
“We’re here to unite — I believe I can speak for every one of us in this room — by the conviction that there is some point, the Supreme Court of the United States to the contrary, notwithstanding, there is some point at which government becomes so big and so overreaching that it becomes a menace to human welfare, and that we have reached that point in this country,” he said to thunderous applause. “And that we intend to do something about it.”
Repeatedly wagging her index finger in the air, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said on Saturday that the West — including states often regarded as up for grabs in the presidential election — was poised to return to its customary Republican voting patterns.
The gesture referenced a widely circulated photograph that depicted Brewer with her finger pointed toward President Barack Obama on a Phoenix runway. She said she would have been happy to repeat the greeting when Obama landed in Colorado Springs on Friday to meet with residents and firefighters.
There was one person, she said, “who should be singled out for all he has done to inspire and energize conservatives across this country. I’d ask him to stand and take a bow, but, unfortunately, Barack Obama could not be with us this morning.”
After the audience’s laughter died down, she added, “I actually offered to greet him at the airport yesterday, but of course the White House, they declined. I don’t really think he likes what I have to say.”
Brewer said she relishes the chance to compete with Democrats for voters in Colorado and Arizona, which she said the Obama campaign wrongly considers to be in play this fall.
“He thinks he can win our states,” she said, waving her finger. “Well, I say, ‘Game on.’”
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, speaking on behalf of presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney, proclaimed his state is “the most red state in the Union and dang proud of that as well” and said Romney was uniquely positioned to carry western states.
“It is critical our next president appreciates religious freedom. It is critical our next president appreciates states’ rights. Only one candidate knows and appreciates the West. Ladies and gentlemen, that candidate is Gov. Mitt Romney,” Mead said.
“The only thing worse than being ignored is having Washington paying attention to you,” he said with a smile, adding that Romney’s western roots suggest the Republican understands the challenges faced by Rocky Mountain states.
Mead said he has heard regularly from Romney this year and that Romney campaign staffers make regular visits to Wyoming — not because it’s considered a swing state or because its electoral votes are in doubt, but because their candidate wants to understand the state’s concerns.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is a man who knows about the West, knows what we have here and knows what we value here,” he said.
Beck brings members of audience to their feet
Radio personality and author Glenn Beck challenged conservatives to show courage in the face of the progressive agenda in a keynote address on Friday night, warning that America “will not recover from this president for another four years” and that Republicans “must win” the election.
“I know things are already on fire here in Colorado, but the conservatives are about to set the political scene on fire,” he promised.
Brandishing a series of charts and props — at one point he lamented that he had run out of space on stage to stash them — Beck built to an emotional climax that prompted audience members to leap to their feet, many holding back tears.
“The progressives have been hiding their agenda,” he said, striding about the stage and flailing his arms. “The progressives hide any place they can. This week, I wonder if some of the progressives haven’t been hiding in black robes,” he said, adding, “John Roberts is a coward.”
Beck said that, contrary to the reactions of some right-leaning commentators, there was nothing good hidden in the Supreme Court’s decision. “Here is the only one thing that makes a difference: We are wide awake, and for generations to come, historians will note that we knew exactly what we were going to get in the end. In 2008, we had no idea,” he said.
Then he elaborated on the ruling’s silver lining.
“The one thing that came out of the court decision is — people, they’re fired up,” he said. “People know: this is it. This is Abraham Lincoln time, guys. The next president is going to be as pivotal as Abraham Lincoln.” Historians, he said, will write that “we either saved the Union or we destroyed the Union. Which will it be?”
He told the cheering audience that it was time to “put aside our petty differences” left over from the divisive GOP primary and unite behind Romney.
“Libertarians, you need to link arms with conservatives, and conservatives you need to link arms with libertarians,” Beck exhorted the crowd, which responded with sustained applause. “The Left is standing with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Left is standing with someone who will either shoot you in the back, or the Brotherhood will step in and chop their heads off. They’ll stand with anybody — and we can’t stand together?” he asked rhetorically.
“It is time that we stand together. It is time for the conservatives and the libertarians, for the Baptists and the Mormons, it is time to put our differences aside.”
Conway predicts united delegation from Colorado
Beck’s message rang loud and clear for the head of the Colorado delegation to August’s Republican National Convention.
Weld County Commissioner and RNC delegation chairman Sean Conway, elected as a pledged delegate for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, said he anticipates a sharply divided group of Republicans — Romney won fewer than half of the state’s delegates, trailing a coalition backing Santorum and Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul — will soon bridge its divides.
“At the moment, I don’t know if I’ve been released, but I anticipate being released by Sen. Santorum, and I look forward to working hard to unify the delegation and come back from Tampa unified and working hard to make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States,” Conway said.
Former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez reiterated the point when he took the stage alongside former U.S. Sen. Hank Brown and former Colorado First Lady Frances Owens to sing Romney’s praises.
Beauprez said he was in the “privileged position — I consider it privileged — to have known all the contestants in our Republican primary and, contrary to what the media would have you believe, those were all great people.
“I’ve got news for you,” he said, casting a stern gaze across the crowd. “If you were for somebody else, and maybe still holding a little bit of a grudge, get over it — get over it. Not just for Mitt Romney’s sake, not just for the Republican Party’s sake — ladies and gentle-men, the United States of America, our children and our grandchildren need us to get over it. We need to get on with the business of saving this great Republic.”
As the crowd erupted in cheers, Beauprez continued: “It is Mitt Romney’s moment, to be this generation’s Abraham Lincoln,” he said, echoing Beck.
Rumors swirled that Romney might drop in at the convention — he had, after all, been invited — and Beauprez sent hearts aflutter for a brief moment when he sounded like he was introducing the candidate but then clarified that Romney had sent along a prerecorded video message.
Moments later, Conway told The Colorado Statesman that the Supreme Court decision could prove decisive.
“As we look back in November, June 28 will be the pivotal moment in which Mitt Romney was going to win this election,” he said, adding that he had heard plenty of “genuine anger and disappointment” expressed by voters since the ruling was announced the day before.
“The Supreme Court really helped the Republican Party and helped Mitt Romney this week. It has awakened a lot of people,” Conway said, though he acknowledged that the contest for Colorado’s electoral votes will be a tough fight.
Former Colorado Republican Party Chairman Dick Wadhams agreed that the state is a toss-up, though he predicted that Romney would pull ahead by election day.
“It’s another typical, competitive Colorado election — it could go either way,” Wadhams told The Statesman on Saturday during a break between conference sessions. “Romney has a great chance to carry Colorado, he’s the kind of candidate who can appeal to those all-important swing voters, Republican and unaffiliated women in Jefferson and Arapahoe counties — throw in Larimer for good measure. Those voters who want to vote for a Republican alternative to Obama, I think Romney’s the kind of Republican they can vote for.”
The vote will likely amount to a referendum on Obama, he said, and the president won’t fare well if the economy is still in the doldrums.
“Ultimately, Obama’s not providing any kind of vision for the future. He’s saying, ‘You think I’m bad, look at him!’ That’s not a strategy for an incumbent president to win. I think right now Romney’s in a strong position to win.”
Conference organizers announced on Sunday that Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio won a straw poll that asked who Romney should pick as a running mate. With 44 percent of the vote, Rubio ran far ahead of potential candidates Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and Florida U.S. Rep. Allen West, who each scored 9 percent of the vote. Former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice ranked next with 5 percent, followed by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who had 4-percent support.
None of the other 27 candidates listed on the ballot — including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, and current and former governors Chris Christie, Nikki Haley, Bob McDonnell, Jeb Bush and Tim Pawlenty, all regularly mentioned as vice presidential possibilities — scored more than one or two votes in the survey, a conference spokesman said.
At last year’s conference, attendees picked Herman Cain — at that point barely registering in public opinion surveys — in a presidential straw poll, presaging the Georgia businessman’s subsequent rise to brief front-runner status for the Republican nomination.