Republican Contenders Make Pitches At CPAC
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
The Republican presidential race came here to Washington today. Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Mitt Romney all spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. The gathering brings thousands of activists across the conservative spectrum together for three days.
NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now from the conference. Hey there, Ari.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Hi, Audie. How are you?
CORNISH: Good. So, Mitt Romney has won more delegates than any of his rivals so far. What was his message to the conference today?
SHAPIRO: Interestingly, it was not his typical stump speech at all. He gave us lots of biographical details, far more than he typically does when he speaks to audiences like this. He talked about his childhood, his grandparents. He went into detail about his father's upbringing, going from poverty to become one of the titans of Detroit, running a car company, and ultimately becoming governor of Michigan. Romney described his history in the private sector, which he talks about often.
But then he went into far more detail about his time as governor of Massachusetts than he typically does. And, Audie, there was one phrase that Romney returned to again and again throughout this speech - a phrase he has not used much of in the race until now, but it was unmissable(ph). Listen to this.
MITT ROMNEY: I know that this president will never get it. But we conservatives aren't just proud to cling to our guns and to our religion. We are also proud to cling to our Constitution.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
SHAPIRO: That phrase: We conservatives, was in nearly every sentence he spoke. He mentioned conservatives, conservatism, standing shoulder-to-shoulder as conservatives. His unmissable message to this audience was: I am one of you, I'm not the Massachusetts moderate people have described me as. He's trying to overcome those persistent doubts that have really dogged him throughout this race.
CORNISH: And, of course, his rival for conservative attention is Rick Santorum. Santorum has won more states than Romney - four out of eight. What was his message?
SHAPIRO: Yeah, Santorum is coming off three wins this week. It is the best week he has had so far in this race. He's in a stronger position than he's been to date, so he's trying to parlay that into something more long-term. And as to be expected, he went off - the typical line of attack that Romney is not the conservative Romney describes himself as. He didn't use Romney's name but Santorum pretty unequivocally told voters not to compromise their ideals.
CORNISH: And, Ari, the last two candidates in the race, Gingrich and Ron Paul, what did they have to say?
SHAPIRO: You know, the funny thing about Gingrich, just a week ago, Audie, you and I were talking about this race as a two-man race between Gingrich and Mitt Romney. Well, that was when Gingrich had won South Carolina. Romney had won a few other states.
And now, as we have said so many times in this race, what a difference a week makes. So, Gingrich is in a position of trying to prove that he, not Santorum, is the authentic conservative alternative to Mitt Romney, and trying to consolidate that not-Romney vote behind him.
And the fourth candidate, Ron Paul, was not at this conference. His son, Rand Paul spoke to the group yesterday. But Ron Paul sort of skipped the event.
CORNISH: Ari, what's the backdrop for all of this? I mean, especially at CPAC where people are really talking about sort of the state of the party.
SHAPIRO: Yeah, you know, there are lots of conservative events that are focused on the Tea Party or focused on social conservatives or focused on some slice of the conservative spectrum. Here, they are all shoulder-to-shoulder. I mean, you go down into the exhibition space and you see it crammed with everything from immigration to abortion to gun rights to student groups to book signings.
I mean, it is all here. And while there are deep divisions within this conservative Republican spectrum, there is extreme unity and extreme passion and extreme commitment to the single cause of defeating President Obama. And that fervor is unmissable. And as much as people criticize each other here for their conservative authenticity or lack thereof, when it comes to President Obama, there is total unanimity.
CORNISH: Thank you so much, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Good to talk to you, Audie.
CORNISH: NPR's Ari Shapiro, he joined me from the Conservative Political Action Conference. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.