(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – Conservatives eager to sift through the current GOP field to find a viable challenger to President Barack Obama were treated to two of them this weekend at Citizen Outreach’s Conservative Leadership Conference held July 9 in Las Vegas.
Businessman Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, is a favorite of the grassroots and blogger communities. He emerged from relative obscurity with a strong debate performance this May and has been among the leaders in recent polls.
Standing ovations bookended Cain’s speech, his rousing oration having struck a chord with the conservative crowd.
Gary Johnson, the former governor of New Mexico, earlier delivered a more low-key address highlighting his libertarian brand of conservatism and his experience as governor of New Mexico.
“The best government is the one that rules the least,” stated Johnson, who touted his vetoes of 750 bills during his tenure as governor of New Mexico. He said that may have been more vetoes than the 49 other governors combined. Most of these, according to Johnson, were to control the state’s spending – “I treated the taxpayers’ money as if it were mine.”
Touching on a subject other candidates, including the President, have focused on during an era of unemployment rates exceeding 9%, Johnson declared he didn’t create any jobs while governor. The government doesn’t create jobs, he said, the private sector does. But as governor he created conditions in which businesses could thrive.
Johnson claimed he believed the country is on the verge of economic collapse and promised to submit a balanced budget for 2013 if elected. If Americans elect a President who claims to balance the budget decades down the line, it will never be balanced, Johnson asserted.
“I believe in free markets,” Johnson declared. “There’s a magic to free markets.” He touted the free market as the means of finding solutions for health care, energy and education but also stated that government has a role in regulating business because “there are bad actors.”
Some of Johnson’s proposals were received less-well than others. His advocacy of legalizing marijuana garnered a less-than-rousing response, although 51% of those voting in the conference’s straw poll indicated their support for legalizing it. And his proposal to offer work visas to illegal immigrants already in the country was received coolly.
While not entirely sold on all the specifics, the crowd embraced Johnson’s expression of principles. America is “liberty, freedom and personal responsibility,” Johnson declared.
Cain gave keynote speaker Andrew Breitbart a serious run for his money as crowd favorite. His 24% of the vote placed him #1 in the conference’s Presidential straw poll, whose votes were collected before he took the stage.
This election is about the “grandbabies,” Cain intoned.
He noted how he has risen from being omitted from the list of candidates in polls to polling in the middle of the pack to finishing among the top three in just a few short weeks since he announced his candidacy.
“You can do anything in America if you believe in God…believe in yourself and…believe in the United States of America,” the candidate declared.
The businessman rattled off a list of tax cuts he would favor to stimulate economic growth. And he joined Johnson in supporting the Fair Tax, a tax on consumption, to replace the current income tax, claiming Americans spend $430 billion each year to comply with the current tax code.
Cain promised to take “common sense to the White House” and disparaged the policies of its current occupant. He dismissed criticism by those who say he has no foreign policy experience, exclaiming, “And the current President does?!” Foreign policy, Cain asserted, “starts with knowing who our friends are and…who are enemies are.”
He embraced his role as one of the favorites of the Tea Party. Describing his first appearance at a Tea Party rally, also in Las Vegas, more than two years ago Cain roared, “I was speaking at Tea Parties before it was cool.”
Cain, who grew up in the pre-civil rights era South, condemned attempts to portray racism within the Tea Party as a scare tactic. “I know racism when I see it,” said Cain. “It is not in the Tea Party.”
Rallying the crowd, Cain cried, “We’ve got to be the Defending Fathers. Defend against all of these assaults on the American Dream.”
As he completed his speech, Cain departed the stage the same way he entered it – to a standing ovation.
Conservatives hungry for a candidate to take on President Obama in 2012 saw two potential candidates last weekend at Citizen Outreach’s Conservative Leadership Conference. Former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson and businessman Herman Cain tried to woo the crowd in their quests to be the Republican alternative.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)