Over 500 Iowans gathered in Des Moines today to listen to a parade of conservative speakers and a handful of Republicans who’ve indicated they’re pondering a bid for president in 2012. The “Conservative Principles Conference” was organized by Congressman Steve King.
“Anybody that woke up half-asleep this morning like I did is now wide awake, ready to go and that’s what we need to be is an Iowa wide awake, ready to go…to launch off this Caucus season,” King said to open the event.
Early this afternoon, Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said the American people already have made a decision about 2012. “And so that’s my question to you here today in Iowa: are you in for 2012? Are you in? Are you going to make it happen? Are we are going to take our country back?” Bachmann said at the close her speech. “I agree with you. I say we do. I’m in!”
Bachmann told the crowd President Obama lacks credibility on a wide range of issues, from his management of the economy to the U.S. military operation in Libya.
“The president was 0-4 last year in his Final Four predictions. Do you remember that? O.K., well, we’ll let him have that. Now he has us engaged yet another third Middle Eastern war, so I think talk about March Madness. Can anybody say Jimmy Carter?” she quipped. “I think that’s where we’re going.”
Bachmann played up her Iowa roots — she was born in Waterloo — and she said Iowans will “forge” the course of the 2012 campaign and help ensure Obama is a one-term president.
“What we need is a change in address form for the person who is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Bachmann said.
Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour told the crowd he was “tickled” to be included in the event and he blasted President Obama and his aides as elitists who are pursuing policies that have hamstrung the economy.
“What is important to us is to have a new president January 20th of 2013,” Barbour said, to applause. “We can’t lose focus on that.”
Barbour, a former D.C. lobbyist for oil and natural gas companies, accused the Obama Adininstration of plotting higher taxes on the industry.
“Ninety billion dollars of increases on the oil and gas industry. Who does he think’s going to pay that? Exxon?” Barbour said, with a laugh. “That’s going to be paid by the people that are pumping gas and diesel fuel into their cars and trucks. This huge tax increase hanging over the economy makes economic growth less likely, makes job creation more difficult.”
Earlier this month White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected claims that Obama plans to seek a gas-tax increase.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich also spoke about economic issues, but made it clear the crowd he would address both economic and social issues if he’s the G.O.P. nominee.
“Some people may tell you that we should stay away from values and stay away from social issues. I’m here to tell you if you don’t with values, if you don’t start by establishing who we are as Americans, the rest of it doesn’t matter,” Gingrich said, to applause from the crowd. “Life if not just about money.”
Gingrich, though, spent nearly half of his speech focused on foreign policy. In the past month Gingrich has expressed both support and opposition to imposing a no-fly zone over Libya. Gingrich told the crowd “obviously there were contradictions” in his statements because he had been “trying to follow Obama.”
“Now, I believe the only rational objective of the current intervention is to defeat (Libyan leader Moammar) Gaddafi as rapidly as possible,” Gingrich said Saturday. “I would do it by using Egyptian, Moroccan, Jordanian, and Iraqi ground forces as advisors and as air controllers, with the rebels, using all of western air power as decisively as possible.”
Four-two-year-old of Matt Alcazar Fort Dodge made the trip to Des Moines as a sort of fact-finding mission to learn more about where the five candidates stand on the issues.
“I need more information, plain and simple,” he said during an interview. “I’m on the fence because I do like a couple of candidates right now.”
Seventy-one-year-old Dorothy Schlitterof Onawa, a former member of the Iowa G.O.P.’s state central committee, says she’s looking for a candidate who embraces “family values.”.
“Yes, the economy’s huge, but you get the culture turned back to God and the economy will correct itself,” she said during an interview, “because people will give the way they’re supposed to give and the tax issues will be taken care of as well.”
Nearly two dozen speakers representing a variety of conservative organizations made up the bulk of the programming at the conference. Two other men who’ve said they’re pondering a presidential campaign were on the program as well. Herman Cain, former Godfather’s Pizza C.E.O., and John Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations, were among the final speakers this afternoon.
(This story was updated at 3:42 p.m.)