Politics

Previewing Conservatives for 2010

While the mainstream media bemoans our “broken government,” the tools to repair it were on display last weekend at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference.

As Florida senate hopeful Marco Rubio said, “Yes, Americans want leaders in Washington willing to work together to get things done. But that comes with one major caveat — it depends on what they are trying to do.” Bipartisanship isn’t an end unto itself: it has to be a means to the right end.

CPAC functioned simultaneously on two levels. On one, young conservatives were able to hear directly from the leaders and experts whose free market, smaller government and secure America alternatives provide the basis to fix America’s problems instead of remaking the nation on the model of the failing states of Europe.

On another level many new conservative candidates were working hard to get the attention and support they deserve this year.

I was wrapping up a chat with conservative businessman Tim Burns — one of two candidates seeking the Republican nomination for the May special election to replace the late John Murtha — when Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell responded to my welcoming wave by stopping by to talk. When Burns showed McDonnell a map of Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district — which resembles some strange rune Indiana Jones found carved in the wall of an ancient temple — McDonnell joked, “Wow. Maybe there is something to be said for bipartisan redistricting.”

Then, from behind me, came a familiar voice saying, “Hi, Bob.” We turned to see a smiling Jim Gilmore, former Virginia governor (now the head of the late Paul Weyrich’s Free Congress Foundation.)

The two governors were soon lost in conversation about the coming budget debate in Richmond, and the indefatigable Katie O’Malley was ushering me off to talk with another candidate.

Some, like Marco Rubio, didn’t need an introduction. Others – unknowns who need conservative help – began to get the national exposure they needed.

FLORIDA: Marco Rubio, the conservative contesting the Florida Republican US Senate nomination against purebred RINO Gov. Charlie Crist, gave the best speech of the event. In an exclusive interview with him later, Rubio made clear the stark choice America faces this year.

Rubio is a political natural. He has charisma, but he’s no Hollywood type: he’s a thoughtful man who gave plain-spoken knowledgeable answers to everything I threw at him. Rubio believes that the 2010 election is a referendum on America’s future, a clear choice between free-market capitalism, effective national defense and American exceptionalism on one hand and the loss of personal freedoms that necessarily results from government expansion.

Rubio’s campaign is now leading Crist’s in the polls. (The last Rasmussen poll, now a week old, showed Rubio leading by 12 points.) But Crist’s handpicked man — James Thrasher — has now been installed as the new state party chairman. Rubio isn’t taking anything for granted. It’s essential that every conservative support Rubio’s campaign now and in the fall. The first Rubio-Crist debate — now scheduled for March 28 — is a must-watch event.

As Rubio said in his speech, we already have one too many Arlen Specters in the Senate. We don’t need another, and that’s what Charlie Crist would be.

Rubio’s fellow Floridian Allen West — former Army lieutenant colonel and (in the interest of full disclosure) a friend of mine — is running in Florida’s 22nd District against Pelosicrat Ron Klein. Allen has devoted his life to defending America and now that he’s no longer on active duty, his drive to continue that service to his country is in stark contrast to his opponent’s pure-as-Ivory-Soap liberal record.

Allen’s devotion to national security (which he’s proven in combat), to reducing government control of our economy — and staunch opposition to Obama’s spending tsunami — would make him a great congressman. Adding Rubio and West, it’s enough to make you want to move to Florida just to vote for these guys.

PENNSYLVANIA:
Businessman Tim Burns didn’t get lost in the McDonnell visit. Burns wants to replace the late John Murtha in Pennsylvania’s weirdly-shaped 12th district. (It was gerrymandered ten years ago to protect Murtha. It looks like the claw of an alien from some cheesy movie, snaking through and grasping parts of eight counties.) Burns is a solid conservative in a west state district that should elect a Republican. He told me that there are a great number of voters who are still “Reagan Democrats” and his campaign will assure them that the Obama spending spree won’t be allowed to bankrupt their children. Burns is contesting the nomination against another conservative, William Russell, who ran against Murtha in 2008. The special election is May 18. The Pennsylvania Republicans need to get their act together quickly to decide between Burns and Russell. Every day they delay, the race will get tougher.

ARIZONA: My old friend J.D. Hayworth is running for the Republican Senate nomination against John McCain. The contrast couldn’t be more clear. One of the reasons the Republican Party lost its way is McCainism, which boils down to a battle for the hearts and minds of the New York Times editorial board, running erratically from right to left. J.D. may pull it off. Arizonans are tired of McCain and so are we.

Brian Miller — an Air Force A-10 pilot who flew combat missions over Afghanistan — is now targeting Arizona’s 8th congressional district, the southeast corner that includes Tucson. He’s running against liberal Gabrielle Giffords, another “Blue Dog” Democrat who – like the rest of them — is really a Pelosi lapdog. (Giffords, for example, supports healthcare nationalization.) Miller is sharp, personable and entirely conservative.

Moreover, Miller is a forward-looking leader. He’s the founder of a PAC called “The Freshmen50”, aiming to help elect that number of new fiscally conservative congressmen this year. His campaign, and the Freshmen50, should be major conservative efforts this year. We need Brian Miller and all the Freshman50 in congress.

ALABAMA:
Les Phillip is running against party-switcher Parker Griffith, who is pretty unpopular in Alabama’s 5th district. Griffith — best known for his statement that we have nothing to fear from radical Islam — may fall to Phillip in the late primary. It’s definitely a race worth watching.

NEW HAMPSHIRE:
Ovide Lamontagne wants to succeed retiring Sen. Judd Gregg, and faces a primary race against former state attorney general Kelly Ayotte. Lamontagne is a solid conservative, pro-life, anti-earmark and solidly against trying enemy combatants in civilian courts. Ayotte is supported by the Washington Republican establishment, and two red flags flying around her. First, the NRSC has intervened in the primary by contributing to her campaign like they did to Charlie Crist’s against Marco Rubio. And John McCain will campaign for her, which isn’t a testimonial to her conservatism. I like Lamontagne, but need to talk to Ayotte before I will be satisfied with either.

UTAH: Attorney Mike Lee is challenging Sen. Bob Bennett for the Republican nomination this year. Lee seems like a great guy and some day may be a great candidate. But Bennett’s conservative credentials — though imperfect (he’s an earmark lover) are pretty solid. Hard to side with an opponent. If Bennett retired, Lee would be a good choice to replace him. [Correction: an earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Mr. Lee as a former Navy pilot. We regret the error.]

MARYLAND:
Dr. Eric Wargotz, in a brief chat, seemed to be a solid conservative. But running against Sen. Barbara Mikulski seems like a suicide mission. Wargotz is sincere, and if Mikulski retires, could be the upset winner this year. If she stays in the race, he still has an outside chance. We never thought Scott Brown could win in Massachusetts. Maryland is just as liberal and — in this very odd political year — Wargotz could just pull it off.

CPAC, for me, was a race to get to know these up-and-comers better. America is angry, uncertain and fearful of the effects of Obama’s run amok liberalism. Conservatives were concerned that we didn’t have a sufficiently deep bench of potential candidates to recover our nation. But we do. Call the bull pen and tell them to send in the right-handers who throw heat.

Now if we can just get Larry Kudlow to run against Chuckie Schumer in New York…

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