Conservatives Gather For GOP Leadership Conference
STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
It's a busy moment for political activists on the right and the left. They're at opposite ends of the Mississippi River. Liberal bloggers, a group known as Netroots, are meeting in Minneapolis, as we'll hear in a moment. We begin in New Orleans, which is hosting the Republican Leadership Conference. NPR's Debbie Elliott is there.
DEBBIE ELLIOTT: Republicans here might not be united behind one candidate yet, but they do agree about one thing.
M: I think right now any candidate we put forth would be a better alternative to the president we have.
ELLIOTT: That's former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who is not a candidate. Even so, Huckabee remains a favorite of the mostly Southern Republicans meeting in New Orleans.
M: How are you?
JUDY: I'm fine. I'm Judy.
M: Hi, Judy.
ELLIOTT: Activists waited in a long line to get a quick handshake and autograph before the conference started yesterday. Two sisters from Slidell, Louisiana, Sally Villere and Kay Putnam, and their friend from Metairie, Becky Gauci, were thrilled to get a moment with Huckabee.
JUDY: I watch his program every weekend.
JUDY: We like him.
JUDY: I love him.
JUDY: We love him.
JUDY: I'm sorry he's not running.
JUDY: Wanted to see him run. Run, Huck, run.
JUDY: I was a little disappointed too. I tell you, he's just - he's genuine.
ELLIOTT: Now they're looking to hear what the GOP candidates have to say about what these ladies agree is the nation's top problem - the faltering economy.
M: I'm 74 years old and I'm still working as a nurse.
JUDY: And I'm 68, I retired and went back to work, because I have to.
M: Yeah, have to work.
JUDY: I need the money. Retirement wasn't enough.
ELLIOTT: In a speech leading off the conference, Huckabee went right to work, decrying President Obama's economic policies.
M: If there was an economic GPS in the oval office of the White House, it would constantly every day be saying recalculating, recalculating, recalculating.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
ELLIOTT: Later, in the evening session, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ramped up the rhetoric.
M: Obama is the most successful food stamp president in American history. I would like to be the most successful paycheck president in American history.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)
ELLIOTT: Many said they were looking forward to hearing today's lineup, which includes Herman Cain, Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Jon Huntsman, among others. But not who Ken Oustalet and his sister Denise Oustalet of New Orleans would like to see.
M: There are two. We wanted to hear Mitt Romney and Pawlenty, but neither of them are going to be here, so we're a little disappointed.
ELLIOTT: No Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney. But Saturday, a relatively new face is on the agenda - Texas Governor Rick Perry. Sandy Villere says that's somebody she can get excited about.
M: I was at this convention last year and I heard him speak and I thought, hmm, this guy has a chance.
ELLIOTT: Debbie Elliott, NPR News, New Orleans.
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