GOP Splits Up For Weekend Conferences

The different dimensions of the current conservative world are on display at separate conferences this weekend, with most of the Republican presidential candidates taking part in one or the other. In New Orleans, the Republican Leadership Conference is attracting about half the Republican field. In Minneapolis, several candidates will be on hand for the Internet-oriented RightOnLine conference. Host Scott Simon discusses these events with NPR correspondents Debbie Elliott in New Orleans and Ina Jaffe in Minneapolis.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The presidential election cycle is gaining momentum. Today in New Orleans, hundreds of Republican activists, most of them from the South, are attending the Republican Leadership Conference. It's an annual event that's drawn about half the field of contenders for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination.

And up in Minneapolis, bloggers and other cyber activists are on hand for the RightOnLine Conference where several presidential hopefuls will also appear.

NPR's correspondent attending both events on opposite ends of the great Mississippi River - Debbie Elliott is down in Louisiana, and Ina Jaffe's up in Minnesota. Greetings to both of you, thanks for joining us.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Hi, Scott.

INA JAFFE: Good morning.

SIMON: And Debbie, let's start with you. Your meeting has featured several Republican candidates on the program on Friday. What are some moments that stood out for you?

ELLIOTT: I think the reception that Minnesota Congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, got here. She was really the star of the day. The crowd even sort of mobbed the stage when she finished her speech. And she really gave this conservative crowd just what they were looking for: plenty of meat stoking the anti-President Obama fervor that was rumbling through the crowd.

She attacked the president's health care overhaul. She attacked his energy policy, as well as his handling of the economy.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (Republican, Minnesota): We know what works. It's cutting spending. It's growing the economy. It's doing what free markets do, and what economic superpowers do. And Mr. President, you're no economic superpower.

SIMON: Give us some idea of who's at the event, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: In terms of candidates, Herman Cain, the Atlanta businessman was here and very folksy. The crowd seemed to warm to him. Rick Santorum, with a very, you know, pro-life message that resonated here. Ron Paul, the Texas congressman who wants to get rid of the Fed was here, and he had a huge following. And then Newt Gingrich was here on Thursday evening with a long and rambling philosophical speech. Also very harsh on President Obama.

ELLIOTT: And Ina Jaffe, up in Minneapolis, your group expects to hear from Representative Bachmann today. That's pretty much her home territory, isn't it?

JAFFE: It is her home territory. It's also the home territory of former Governor Tim Pawlenty, who's also a presidential candidate. They'll both be here and they will welcome the crowd. They are not going to really be speaking as candidates according to the organizers of this event. It's really more of a hospitality thing.

SIMON: Herman Cain will be there, and it is after all a conference about new technology, isn't it?

JAFFE: Yes, it is. Herman Cain will be there. He has been involved with Americans for Prosperity Foundation for a long time, which is the reason - one of the reasons that he will be here. And that's an organization that was started by the billionaire Koch Brothers that is the originator of the RightOnLine Conference.

And it is focused on getting conservatives to make better use and greater use of social media and the Internet. There are a lot of workshops like Twitter 101 and Facebook 101. And while there are a lot of people now in the blogosphere on the right as well as the left, the feel they have been playing catch up, and there's a lot of how-to in this conference.

SIMON: Now Netroots Nation is an independent organization that I guess is having another Internet conference in the same area. They have a different perspective, don't they?

JAFFE: Well, yes. It represents the progressive wing of the Democratic party, some people who just would call themselves progressives perhaps and not even Democrats.

And if you want to hear people picking on President Obama, you can hear it just as easily at the Netroots Nation Conference as you can at RightOnLine. These people are very disappointed, many of them, with President Obama, and they expressed it at a panel that was called, "What To Do When the President's Just Not That Into You." And this is Jane Hampshire who blogs at Firedoglake, who sort of addressed the president this way.

Ms. JANE HAMPSHIRE (Blogger, Firedoglake): We understand what you need from us, and we're not going to give it to you during election season unless you respond to us, our constituents, that you turn out and ask to vote for you and support for you and put our shoe leather and canvassed and knocked. Unless you work actively and not just give us some, you know, excuse, we're not gonna be there.

SIMON: We've noted the number of candidates who were there, but Debbie Elliott, why have a number of candidates chosen not to go, do you know?

ELLIOTT: Well, John Huntsman was on the agenda, but his campaign said he was sick and couldn't make it, and he is planning to make his big rollout of his campaign next week. The notable absences I think are Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty. Now Pawlenty it sounds like, you know, according to Ina, has some business in his home state to take care of. Mitt Romney, the presumed frontrunner right now in the Republican race, not here. So folks say, you know, that was a mistake. He should be here. Hes snubbing the South.

SIMON: Ina Jaffe, we I guess are casting both of these conclaves in the political terms as we can kind of discern them. But do the Internet people want to make another point too?

JAFFE: They want to change the way politics is conducted. I think that is true on both the right and the left from the experience and the conversations that I've had in the past couple of days. The people at Netroots Nation think that the Internet can be used to organize differently and to raise money differently, and that there's some evidence that they've already been pretty good at doing that. And I think that's true on the right as well. I met a woman today. Her name is Nansen(ph) Maline(ph) and she lives in rural Washington State. She says she has a huge following on Twitter. And she says from her base in rural Washington State she's able to work with members of Congress on policy issues all time and just because of social media and the Internet.

SIMON: NPR's Ina Jaffe in Minneapolis and Debbie Elliott in New Orleans, thank you both so much.

JAFFE: Youre welcome.

ELLIOTT: Youre welcome, Scott.

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