LIANE HANSEN, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.
President Obama took office just eight months ago, but for social and religious conservatives, it's not too soon to consider the next presidential race. People attending the Values Voter Summit here in Washington this weekend heard from two former governors who took part in last year's primary and a current governor who's expected to join the contest in 2012.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY: In between speeches at the summit meeting, self-described values voters fanned out into a hotel corridor, where they could cast ballots in a presidential straw poll. Amy Walker of Palmer, Alaska wore a bright red T-shirt that identified her as a volunteer for the political action committee of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.
Ms. AMY WALKER: We will support life at all stages from womb to natural death. We stand for solid traditional marriage with no counterfeits in there, and then divulge the IRS and institute the fair tax.
HORSLEY: Jack Clink of Gordon, Virginia cast his ballot for former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney.
Mr. JACK CLINK: I think he appears presidential. He has a certain gravitas and I think it's time that we have somebody with that kind of seriousness in the White House.
HORSLEY: And Mike Davis of Severna Park, Maryland has his eye on Tim Pawlenty, whom he thinks has done a good job as governor of Minnesota.
Mr. MIKE DAVIS: The budget's imbalanced and they're not raising taxes is my understanding. And he was able to do that in a left-leaning liberal state.
HORSLEY: In his speech to the summit on Friday night, Pawlenty talked about the challenge of running as a Republican in a state like Minnesota. Many of his own family members are Democrats, he said, even though they share common views on issues such as taxes and second-amendment rights.
Governor TIM PAWLENTY (Republican, Minnesota): They'd agree with us on, you know, seven, eight, nine, ten of the top issues. You know, how come you're not with us then as a conservative or my party, a Republican? Well, because you guys aren't always for the working person. You heard that before?
Unidentified Group: Yeah.
Gov. PAWLENTY: So, that's a stereotype we need to overcome.
HORSLEY: There wasn't a lot of discussion this weekend about how to position the GOP economically as a party for working people. Instead, the values voters are focused on social issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. One panel described global warming hysteria as the new face of the pro-death agenda. Romney tackled the subject during his speech on Saturday.
Mr. MITT ROMNEY (Republican, Former Governor of Massachusetts): Now, Democrats keep talking about climate change, but I think they're confusing global warming with the heat they've been taken at the town halls.
HORSLEY: Speakers lobbed most of their attacks at President Obama and the Democratic Congress, saying they're too aggressive with their economic interventions and not aggressive enough in foreign policy. But Pawlenty and Huckabee also took aim at the Massachusetts experiment in health care reform, which Romney championed when he was governor there. Here's Huckabee:
Mr. MIKE HUCKABEE (Republican, Former Governor of Arkansas): You know, the only thing inexpensive about the Massachusetts health care bill is that there you can get a $50 abortion. Is that where we're headed with the public option and a government-run health care, thank you but no thank you. Our wallets and our babies will be better off without it.
HORSLEY: Romney defended the Massachusetts plan, though what he didn't say is that it's broadly similar to the plan now under consideration by the Senate Finance Committee.
Mr. ROMNEY: Not every feature of our plan was perfect, but it does teach this important lesson: you can get everyone insured without breaking the bank and without a government option. The right answer for health care is not more government, it is less government.
HORSLEY: Crazy as it may be, to count even straw poll votes more than three years before an election, Huckabee was the big winner in this weekend's tally. Romney finished a distant second and Pawlenty was third. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who did not attend, finished fourth.
Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington.
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