Paul Ryan Headlines Values Voter Summit

Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan addressed the annual Values Voter Summit on Friday. Audie Cornish talks with Don Gonyea.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish. The annual gathering of Christian political activists known as the Values Voter Summit is under way here in Washington, D.C. Today's headliner, Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan. He's a favorite of religious conservatives, even as those same voters were slow to warm up to the man at the top of the ticket, Mitt Romney.

NPR's Don Gonyea was at the summit and joins us now. And, Don, foreign policy has dominated the news this week with the protests in Muslim countries and the return home today of the bodies of the Americans killed in the Libyan consulate. Did Congressman Ryan address that during his speech?

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: He did. This was a political speech, obviously. These are voters they're trying to fire up, a group they're reaching out to. But he opened his remarks this morning with very measured comments, very measured words on the topic. There were condolences for family members of those killed. He described the televised images - I'm quoting him here - "of our flag being burned and our embassies under attack by vicious mobs."

PAUL RYAN: The worst of it is the loss of four good men, including our ambassador to Libya. They were there for the most peaceful purposes, in service to our country. And today, our country honors their lives and grieves with their families.

(APPLAUSE)

GONYEA: You can hear his tone there. But just a few sentences later, he does go on the attack, hitting the Obama administration hard on foreign policy. Give a listen.

RYAN: Amid all these threats and dangers, what we do not see is steady, consistent American leadership. In the days ahead and in the years ahead, American foreign policy needs moral clarity and firmness of purpose.

(APPLAUSE)

CORNISH: There's the political attack there from Congressman Ryan. Of course, we've talked a lot today about the Republican campaign facing criticism itself this week about this issue.

GONYEA: Right. And the campaign is clearly still trying to find a way to address this. The crisis is obviously still very much ongoing, but these remarks were, again, more calibrated, nothing from the hip, nothing like the emails the campaign sent out two nights ago when there was no real clarity to what was actually happening in Benghazi and in Cairo.

So more careful, though very much part of a political campaign that is going to use this against the president going forward.

CORNISH: Now, Don, while Paul Ryan was speaking at the Values Voter Summit, where was Mitt Romney?

GONYEA: He was in Ohio campaigning in what is obviously a very important battleground state. He did address the group via prerecorded videotape message this afternoon. But at the conference this morning, I talked to Tony Perkins, he's the head of the Family Research Council, that's the group that organizes this event every year. And I asked him if the motivation for these voters is still more anti-President Obama than it is pro-Romney. Here's what he said.

TONY PERKINS: Clearly, it is an anti-Obama, it's a save the country enthusiasm, but it's shifting as - as I see Mitt Romney and as I've communicated with the campaign and him and watched, he's becoming - he's getting warmed up in reaching out to the various components of the conservative movement, including social conservatives.

GONYEA: Again, this is the place where a year ago the Dallas pastor Robert Jeffress called Mormonism a cult and attendees last year would say, yeah, I'll support Romney if, if he's the nominee. Well, he is now the nominee, and people are saying they will support him. But we'll still have to see how strongly they do.

CORNISH: And just a few seconds left there, Don. Somebody was missing from the Values Voter Summit, right?

GONYEA: Yes, Todd Akin, the U.S. congressman running for Senate in Missouri, made those controversial remarks about legitimate rape. He was invited. He decided not to come, Tony Perkins told me. They said he was welcome. He decided not to come. And again, as Mr. Perkins put it, he's probably better off spending his time campaigning back home in Missouri than being in Washington.

CORNISH: NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks so much, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

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