Republicans kick off presidential weekend with eyes on 'faith and freedom'
By Michael C. Bender, Marc Caputo and Alex Leary
Ahead of the FOX News/Google debate tonight, the Republican presidential candidates and some of Florida's elected officials addressed a crowd of several hundred folks at the Faith & Freedom Coalition.
Some quick highlights as it happens:
• Michele Bachmann, the first candidate on stage, invoked 16th century Puritan John Winthrop and compared the group to the Pilgrims, telling them to live their lives like "a shining city upon a hill."
"When we stand for what God says is true .. our nation is bless," the U.S. House rep from Minnesota said. "And we should not be ashamed of this word.
Bachmann said "the first unit of government is the family."
"You are not alone," Bachmann said.
"People of faith all across the country are coming together as never before because they see 2012 is it," she said. "And they are committed to making Barack Obama a one term president."
• Mitt Romney takes the stage at 3:48 pm. and lets his wife, Ann, say hello. While Bachmann focused much of her speech on God and faith, Romney launches immediately into the economy and stays there for his eight minute speech.
Romney says Obama is "eloquent" but "just didn't follow through."
"You wonder why in the world he is so misguided," Romney asks. He then answers his own question: "Perhaps it's all those years in the Harvard faculty lounge."
Romney says liberals aren't dumb, just wrong and implies he's the most electable candidate. "To beat Barack Obama, I think it helps to have someone whose had a job to create jobs for the American people."
• Quick break from the presidential candidates for Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who gives a rousing five minutes that could substitute for a Sunday morning sermon.
She blasts the media, which she says "would like nothing better than to ridicule Christians."
"These are very sad times when we allow the minority to poison the minds of the majority," Carroll said, saying this is "exactly" what "socialists" and "dictators" do.
Carroll says she made it through a recent health scare because of her prayers. "The only reason I survived was because God heard my profess commitment to him."
She said, "There is no gray area: You either believe or you don't believe."
"It's funny when these storms brew up you never hear anyone praying to Satan," Carroll said.
• Rick Santorum takes the mic about 4:15 p.m., and recognizes his audience right away. "In a word, faith is what made America great," he said.
Calls on audience to review candidates not by what box they check or pledge they make but "what bullets and arrows they take for the causes they say they believe in."
Santorum says he's the strongest candidate because he was a repeat winner in a swing state, Pennsylvania.
• Ron Paul 4:31 p.m.: Starts off by telling stories from the Bible, but gets applause when he starts for talking about reforming the monetary system. Paul says families should take responsibility for educating children, not the Department of Education.
Paul charges audience to take up fight for liberty, freedom to "practice the truth."
• Herman Cain gets standing ovation as he takes the stage at 4:47 p.m. "Delighted to be here," he says.
He says Founding Fathers probably meant to put gun rights into the Declaration of Independence. Huge cheers again.
Cain calls America a "nation of crises" and says the county is dealing with economic, entitlement spending, energy, immigration and "foggy foreign policy" crises.
"And the biggest crisis we have is a severe deficiency of leadership crisis in the White House and in America," Cain said.
Another standing ovation at the end of eight minutes. Biggest applause so far.
• Newt Gingrich comes out to the Rocky theme song, wife at side. "I looked for a teleprompter," he says. "I guess I’ll just have to speak from my heart." Pledges to sign series of executive orders, banning abortion funding, etc, move embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"President Obama is the best food stamp president in American history," he says. "With your help, I would like to be the best pay check president."
Gingrich's speech quite short, though he previews his "21st Century Contract With America," which he promises will be "bolder, bigger and more comprehensive" than the last one.
• "Howdy," Rick Perry says as he takes the stage at 5:16 p.m.
Perry tells a bootstraps story about growing up poor. Says his upbringing was "centered around hard work, faith and family."
"Those values stick with me today," he says, then spends the rest of his 11-minute speech mostly bashing Obama.
Perry says some people believe America is in decline. "I disagree. Washington D.C. is in decline," he says.
Perry points to the 9.1 national unemployment rate (1.6 percentage points below Florida's). "That is not an economic recovery, Mr. President," Perry says. "That is an economic disaster. We cannot afford four more years of this high unemployment."
"It is time for a change," Perry says.