Two Colorado Republicans made their debuts at the local version of the country’s premiere gathering of right-leaning activists and politicians when the Conservative Political Action Conference set up shop in Denver last week in the afterglow of the first presidential debate. U.S. Reps. Doug Lamborn and Cory Gardner bracketed a full day of speeches and panel discussions at CPAC-Colorado last Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Denver International Airport, near I-70 and East 40th Avenue.
The conference, sponsored by the American Conservative Union, routinely boasts a star-studded roster of leading conservative speakers and has become almost an obligatory stop for rising stars and established leaders in the movement. CPAC’s central role was evidenced by an unexpected visit on Thursday morning by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who joined four of his five sons on stage to spike the football on Thursday morning after appearing to revive his campaign at the debate the night before.
Taking the main stage right after Romney, Lamborn quipped that he was glad that he didn’t have a hard act to follow, and then added, “Didn’t he hit a home run last night? And it shows that Barack Obama doesn’t do so well without a teleprompter.”
Lamborn, who noted that he consistently wins a 100-percent ranking from the ACU, spoke directly to the hundreds of like-minded conservatives arrayed in the ballroom.
“You are going to be the ones who turn things around for our country,” he said. “You know our nation is hanging in the balance on Nov. 6, so we’re going to take these conservative values and win over the Rocky Mountain West for Mitt Romney.”
For the rest of his 10-minute speech, Lamborn made sharp comparisons between Obama’s reelection campaign and the one undertaken by the last Democrat to be denied a second term, Jimmy Carter, contending that both presidents faced voters with failed policies at home and abroad.
Referring to the attack last month on American diplomats in Libya, Lamborn drove home his comparison. “Now before Ambassador Christopher Stevens was brutally murdered, I’ll give you one guess as to who was president the last time an ambassador was murdered.” After a pause, he answered: “Jimmy Carter.”
Lamborn accused Obama of formulating a foreign policy “of appeasement and apologizing,” which he said “only emboldens the terrorists — it only makes America look weak.”
Then, reviving a phrase made famous by Ronald Reagan — and invoked repeatedly by the Romney campaign — Lamborn asked, “Who in their right mind says that we’re better off now than we were four years ago? And what rational person will think that four more years of the same will turn out any different?”
“Here’s the most critical parallel between today and 1980: even though the press did everything they could to prop up Jimmy Carter, and even though liberals reviled Ronald Reagan, conservatism prevailed — conservatism won out,” he said, adding, “It took a Jimmy Carter to give us Ronald Reagan. I truly believe that Mitt Romney has the same opportunity and the same potential to turn our country around with the help of Republicans in the House and Senate — who, by the way, are more conservative than they were in 1980.”
Gardner spoke at the end of the day’s full schedule, following ACU board member and one-time GOP Senate candidate Carly Fiorina and ahead of a screening of the movie “2016: Obama’s America.”
Like many of the speakers, he opened with jokes about Obama’s debate performance, saying he’d been delighted to see some of the commentary on Twitter the night before.
“‘What was that big thump in the middle of the debate, besides David Axelrod fainting?’” read one that caught his attention, he said, and added, “My favorite tweet was, ‘Clint Eastwood’s empty chair could have done a better job last night.’”
Before continuing with a lyrical speech that invoked George Washington and Thomas Paine, Gardner got in one more dig at Obama’s debating skills.
“You have to wonder whether or not the president’s performance last night was as a result of Joe Biden’s remark that the middle class has been buried over the past four years.” After a dramatic pause, he delivered a punch line that brought down the house: “At least the president finally found a shovel-ready project.”
Then Gardner told a story familiar to Colorado audiences about the nation’s hard-fought independence and how precarious it all seemed when Washington crossed the Delaware. In soaring tones, he turned the discussion to the present day: “We are indeed standing on the bank of a new American crisis. The debt stands at $16 trillion, discretionary spending is booming, entitlement spending is rising, and employment is suffering. Bailouts, handouts and copouts litter the economic path of a country that once embodied the virtues of liberty and the free market. And government grows, dependency grows, and so, too, grows the longing of a nation, desperate for leadership,” he said.
“And so we stand before this election of 2012 asking a simple question — what kind of nation will we become? A nation that continues the long, lonely march towards the United States of Entitlement, or the nation of liberty, that preserves this, the last best hope of man on Earth. We in this room know that there really is no choice.”
See Oct. 12, 2012 print edition for full photo coverage.