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Saturday, March 31, 2012

 4:42 PM 

Three GOP prez candidates address Faith and Freedom Coalition event

At the Wisconsin Faith and Freedom Coalition's Presidential Kickoff on Saturday, the Republican primary continued in full force. Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Rick Santorum all spoke to the gathering, as did U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville.

Addressing a crowd that organizers estimated at more than 1,000, Romney went after President Barack Obama, while Santorum tried to position himself as a candidate with a better chance to defeat the president. Gingrich continued to try to gain traction, as polls of Wisconsin primary voters show him well behind Romney and Santorum.

The crowd gave warm receptions to each candidate, but perhaps the loudest cheers were reserved for those not on Tuesday's ballot: Ryan and Gov. Scott Walker, who was not in attendance but received supportive statements from several speakers.

Ryan, who endorsed Romney Friday, said the country was at both a moral and fiscal tipping point. Ryan stressed the importance of the election. He said neither side would "completely vanquish" the other, but added the result could "set the trajectory for a generation."

Introducing Romney, Ryan said the GOP primary has been a good thing, but it can "come to a point where it is counter-productive." He expanded on his endorsement of Romney, saying that when he decides who to vote for as a citizen, he considers who would be the best president and who could beat Obama.

In his speech, Romney went after Obama for his economic policies.

"They just kill economic freedom. They make it harder and harder and put people back to work. And the proof is in the pudding, look at this recovery. The most tepid, weakest recovery we've seen since Hoover. This is a time for freedom, economic freedom. Not a time for a government-dominated society or economy."

Romney pledged to reduce the size of the federal government.

"If I'm president, we're gonna cut federal spending, cap federal spending and we're finally going to have a balanced budget amendment," he said.

While Romney focused his attention on Obama, Santorum used his speech to criticize the former Massachusetts governor, even though he only mentioned Romney by name once.

"He's uniquely disqualified," Santorum said.

In particular, the former Pennsylvania senator criticized Romney for his health care plan being used as a blueprint for Obama's Affordable Care Act.

"If you want ObamaCare repealed," Santorum said. "You have to make this election a mandate."

"You have one person who can make that case and you have one who can't," Santorum added.

Santorum went on to call health care reform Obama's "Achilles heel," and asked "why in the world the Republican Party would give that away?"

"I'm not going to run as a conservative," Santorum added. "I am a conservative."

For his speech, Gingrich was joined on stage by his wife Callista, a Wisconsin native. He focused on the role of religion in society and the size of government.

"The key to balancing the budget is very simple, we want to shrink the government to fit the revenues available," Gingrich said. "Not raise the revenues to catch up with Obama's spending."

Gingrich also spent a good deal of his speech on religion. He brought up founding documents and President Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural address, noting the presence of religion in both. He also said the current administration contradicts itself on religious freedom, referencing recent events such as contraception coverage and the burning of the Quran.

"If you are a Christian they can oppose you," Gingrich said. "But if you are a radical Islamist, they owe you an apology."

-- By Arthur Thomas


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