Presidential Hopefuls Geek Out At GOP Conference

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Several Republican presidential contenders spoke on Saturday at the RightOnline conference, a gathering of conservative technology activists. NPR's Ina Jaffe was there.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Jacki Lyden.

In Minneapolis yesterday, a conference of conservative bloggers and social media activists heard from three Republican presidential candidates.

As NPRs Ina Jaffe reports, the RightOnline conference was all about new media, but the candidates gave good old fashioned stump speeches.

INA JAFFE: It appears that the blogosphere hasnt yet been embraced by Republican candidates the way it has been by Democrats. In 2008, most of the Democratic presidential candidates addressed the progressive new media convention, Netroots Nation. But at RightOnline in Minneapolis, there were just three candidates: Congresswoman Michele Bachmann of Minnesota; Tim Pawlenty, former governor of Minnesota; and business executive Herman Cain.

And Jon Fleischman, who blogs at the FlashReport, had this question:

Mr. JON FLEISCHMAN (Blogger, FlashReport): Where are they other candidates? They need to be here. Theyre not here. But well catch up to them.

Representative MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN, Presidential Candidate): Thank you for coming to our state.

JAFFE: Michele Bachmann provided enough entertainment for two candidates. She spoke for 40 minutes and hit all the right notes for this audience, including plenty of Obama-bashing.

Rep. BACHMANN: Make no mistake about it, Barak Obama will be a one-term president.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

JAFFE: Bachmann avoided discussing her positions on social issues, instead focusing on sure-fire conservative crowd pleasers. For instance, she reminded the audience that she was the first member of Congress to propose legislation repealing the health care overhaul.

Rep. BACHMANN: Its 41 words long and it is the full scale repeal of ObamaCare. And I promise you today, that as president of the United States, I will not rest until we repeal ObamaCare.

(Soundbite of cheering and applause)

JAFFE: Repealing the healthcare law also played a part in Tim Pawlentys speech.

Mr. TIM PAWLENTY (R-MN, Presidential Candidate): If were going to have a charge, a political charge against Barack Obama about health care reform, we better do it with somebody who's not a co-conspirator in the charge.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: A little obscure, but the crowd understood that it was a shot at rival candidate Mitt Romney, who signed a similar bill as governor of Massachusetts.

Pawlenty played it casual, wearing a blazer, polo shirt and jeans, moving around the stage and speaking without notes. He presented himself as an experienced executive, whod managed to push through conservative policies in a mostly liberal state. And he said he was ready to tell the hard truths to every special interest group in the nation.

Mr. PAWLENTY: And thats why we got to go to places like Florida and tell seniors and young people what it's really going to take to fix Social Security. We have to go to Wall Street and tell the bankers and financiers and the money changers, they got to get their snout out of the government trough 'cause it's in as deep as everybody else's.

(Soundbite of applause and cheering)

JAFFE: In contrast to Pawlentys experience, business executive Herman Cain said hed never held public office and that was just fine.

Mr. HERMAN CAIN (Republican, Presidential Candidate): In all the audiences I've been talking to, I get a big amen when I tell them that I havent held public office.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: As to the charge he doesnt know how Washington works, he said.

Mr. CAIN: Yes, I do. It doesnt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAFFE: So no need to figure it out, said Cain.

Mr. CAIN: As a president of the people, by the people and for the people, my job would be to change Washington, D.C., not learn how it works.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: There was no clear favorite for the day. Not even within a single family, like the Willoughbys from Madison, Wisconsin. Tricia, one of three daughters, had this review.

Ms. TRICIA WILLOUGHBY: My favorite speaker was probably Michele Bachmann. I thought she did the best job speaking. Policy-wise, I thought Pawlenty did the best. And Herman Cain just kind of shouted down Obama the whole time, so that was kind of disappointing.

JAFFE: Her two sisters also liked Pawlenty best.

Mr. BRET WILLOUGHBY: Im Brad and we are a house divided.

JAFFE: Brad Willoughbys the dad. He likes Herman Cain. His wife, Nancy, likes Cain and Bachmann. Plenty for the family to discuss on the ride back to Wisconsin.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, Minneapolis.

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