RALEIGH — At a time when Republicans in North Carolina are buoyed by their political control of the governor’s office and both chambers of the General Assembly for the first time in a century, several hundred conservatives gathered in Raleigh this weekend to plot their next moves.
The two-day annual Conservative Leadership Conference, organized by the Civitas Institute, brought participants to the capital city from across the state on Friday and Saturday.
Audiences heard from North Carolina elected officials Phil Berger, the Republican president pro tem of the state Senate; Thom Tillis, the Republican leader of the state House; Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, a newly elected Republican, and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Renee Elmers and George Holding.
With such hot-button issues as immigration, tax reform, health care reform and the state of education on the agenda, the conference drew party figures from out of state, too.
On the speakers list were Jason Lewis, a radio talk show host often described as “America’s Mr. Right;” Ed Feulner, president of the National Heritage Foundation think tank; former U.S. senator from South Carolina Jim DeMint, president-elect of the National Heritage Foundation and a leading member of the tea party movement; and Michelle Malkin, a conservative blogger, political commentator and columnist.
On Saturday, about 200 people crowded into a dining room at the Crabtree Marriott in Raleigh.
Artur Davis, a former U.S. congressman from Birmingham who failed in his 2010 quest to become Alabama’s first black governor, received many rounds of applause from the crowd as he criticized President Barack Obama, a Democrat he campaigned for in 2008. Davis, a Republican since 2012, described himself as a politician grounded in the philosophy of a “strange bird” that once existed in Alabama – the “conservative Democrat.”
That bird, now extinct, Davis said, was “sensitive to the culture of the South,” fiscally conservative and “happy with the definition of marriage and family.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin who sought support from the tea party to defeat Russ Feingold, one of the Senate’s more prominent liberals, stepped up to the podium after Davis.
Johnson relayed a story about his daughter’s birth defects and her many heart surgeries as he attacked “Obamacare,” and he contended had such reforms been in place when his daughter was born he would have been robbed of the choice to shop for doctors. Health care reformers have disputed that allegation.
Shaping public opinion
The speakers criticized the mainstream media, talked about trying to find new ways to get “their information out” and touted talk show host Rush Limbaugh, writer and policy advocate David Horowitz and others as their only hope for the future America they hope to create.
As they talked about fiscal policy, a new Elon University poll showed that North Carolinians place more blame on Congress than the president for the current fiscal dilemma. When asked whether the president or Congress deserved more blame, 54 percent of the respondents replied that Congress did and 22 percent cited the president.
The pollsters asked whether the Republicans or Democrats deserved more blame, and the Democrats fared slightly better than the Republicans.
Thirty-four percent of the respondents placed more blame on the Republicans, according to the poll, 28 percent placed more blame on the Democrats, and 32 percent said they did not know.
Ginny Quaglia, an Ocean Isle resident who volunteers for Heritage Action North Carolina, said she enjoyed coming to the conference to find like-minded people.
“I feel a sense of camaraderie with other fellow conservatives,” Quaglia said after hearing Johnson speak. “It helps motivate me when I’m out there on my own as a grassroots activist.”