WASHINGTON — Republicans who may want President Barack Obama's job flocked to the town they love to hate this weekend and repeatedly ripped into the Democrat, an early tryout of sorts for the GOP nomination.
"Barack Obama has created at least three jobs that I know of: Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie and Scott Brown," former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a fawning crowd Saturday, celebrating recent GOP victories in governor's races in Virginia and New Jersey and the Senate in Massachusetts.
He predicted Republicans would take back control of Congress this fall and added: "We'll elect a new president in 2012."
In appearance after appearance, possible GOP contenders used two national platforms — a caucus of conservatives and a gathering of governors — to promote their credentials and test their strength in an incredibly fluid field a full two years before the GOP chooses its nominee.
Along with Gingrich, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania courted conservatives with lengthy speeches at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour held court at the National Governors Association meeting as chairman of the GOP governors, while Govs. Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana attended. Minn. Gov. Tim Pawlenty plugged away at both events.
Among possible candidates missing: 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and South Dakota Sen. John Thune. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's presence was limited to a video shown to a small group of conservatives.
No Republican has announced a bid. Several are considering it or are in various stages of laying the groundwork. They are putting campaign teams in place, visiting early primary voting states and using political action committees to sow goodwill — and money — among the party's candidates.
GOP hopefuls are emboldened by Obama's weakened poll numbers just one year into office, and they see an opportunity to capitalize on anger rippling through the electorate.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise appearance at the conservatives' conference and said, "I think Barack Obama is a one-term president." But though he was greeted with chants of "Run, Dick, Run," he said: "I am not going to do it."
Supporters encouraged attendees to vote their way during a 2012 straw poll; Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a libertarian who has railed against spending and the Federal Reserve, won the most support, followed by Romney, Palin and Pawlenty. The results mean little more than bragging rights for the winner.