Rob Christensen

GOP presidential contenders leave impressions during NC convention

Raleigh looked like Iowa-lite over the weekend, with presidential candidates popping up everywhere.

They gave speeches, worked the hallways, and posed for selfies at the three-day state GOP convention held at the Raleigh Convention Center. They met with potential donors and activists, attended fundraisers, and made pilgrimages to Jones Street.

They hated Barack and Hillary, loved Reagan and Israel. And left the impression that Obamacare was only slightly better than radical Islamic terrorism.

This is the result of the legislature moving up North Carolina’s presidential primaries from its traditional date in May to probably the first Tuesday in March – although the date is still not yet locked in. That has made North Carolina’s primaries relevant.

Here is my first impression of the candidates:

▪ Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may not be a household name, but he has a strong shot at the GOP nomination, based on his broad appeal to all party factions. At a dinner Friday night, Walker’s basic pitch was that he is a proven commodity – someone who can deliver conservative solutions in a traditionally Democratic state. Walker spent much of his speech talking about his Wisconsin experience – how he fought the public unions and survived a recall attempt. He portrays himself as a fighter and winner – and the only candidate with a track record of governing on conservative principles.

Walker was warmly received by the North Carolina Republicans, but he is not a gifted public speaker and comes across as bland.

Like other speakers, he repeatedly tied Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to President Barack Obama, likening a victory by her to a third Obama term.

▪ Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is more of a dark horse Tea Party candidate, but he is not to be underestimated. In a conservative party, no one will get to the right of Cruz. Cruz is smart, articulate and connects emotionally with his audience. Cruz never stands behind the podium but wanders across the stage like a professional speaker.

Cruz told a Saturday luncheon that he wants to make next year’s election a referendum on Obamacare and abolishing the Internal Revenue Service, replacing it with a flat tax.

Like other speakers, he is highly critical of Obama’s Middle East policy, saying he is not doing enough to stop the advance of radical Islamists. But like the others, he doesn’t say what he would do instead if he were president.

▪ Donald Trump, a New York real estate tycoon and TV host, mainly wants to talk about himself. Why not put a top-level deal-maker like himself in office to deal with China, Mexico, Iran and even American companies who want to send jobs overseas, Trump asks at a dinner Saturday night. Trump says he is too rich to be influenced by lobbyists. “I would be the greatest jobs president that God ever created,” Trump proclaims.

While heaping praise on himself, he is critical of nearly everyone else. Obama is “most likely incompetent” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio both made an “ass” out of themselves in taking days to decide whether they agreed with the original Iraq invasion. (Trump said it was a mistake to go in and a mistake to pull out.) Trump also appeared to be politically tone deaf. Speaking to an audience that included many evangelicals, he twice used a four-letter word for manure.

▪ Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon and long-shot presidential candidate, was the speaker at the Sunday prayer breakfast. Thank goodness it wasn’t Trump.

Perhaps, because of the setting, Carson gave an almost non-partisan talk, weaving in anecdotes about his life and the need for “faith and courage.” Carson has his own devoted following, some of whom carried signs, reading “Win, Ben Win.’’

Carson talked about how his surgical gifts were God’s, not his own. He was sort of the anti-Trump, laid back and self-effacing.

Christensen: 919-829-4532;

Twitter: @oldpolhack