Supporters of Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas)… (Kevork Djansezian, Getty…)
The front-runners in the GOP presidential race were nowhere to be found as California Republicans met in Los Angeles over the weekend, giving underdog candidates a chance to press their argument that the nation will recover from its economic malaise only by shrinking government to the bounds of the Constitution.
The crowd at the state party convention — as usual dominated by the more conservative elements in the GOP — warmly received U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas.
Paul spoke to about 200 people at a breakfast fundraiser Saturday, but hundreds more supporters trailed him at the J.W. Marriott hotel, chanting his name and waving signs that read "Ron Paul revolution."
"Endless wars overseas and endless welfare at home — we can't afford that anymore. We have to change those policies," Paul said. "I'm running on peace and prosperity and personal liberty, the U.S. Constitution and American tradition."
Bachmann, addressing about 400 people at the party's dinner late Friday, said the party must nominate a candidate who is grounded in the country's founding principles in order to fight President Obama's healthcare reform law.
"We have to have in this election someone again with core convictions who is a constitutional conservative, who won't take no for an answer, who is willing to push the boulder up the hill because that's what it will take to repeal Obamacare," she said. "It will take a miracle, but I believe in miracles, and I believe in the one who gives miracles."
Candidates who are even further down the field also made appearances at the convention — Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan at the breakfast and Fred Karger, the first openly gay Republican presidential candidate, at a morning champagne reception by the Log Cabin Republicans.
Front-runners Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were no-shows. Perry, the Texas governor, was campaigning in Iowa on Friday. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was fundraising in California on Friday and Saturday, drawing grumbles from some Republicans who felt he should have swung by the party gathering.
"If Romney was going to be in California on Friday anyway, it sure would have been nice if he could have visited the California Republican Party convention," said conservative blogger Jon Fleischman, a former state party official.
The convention lacked the fireworks of prior gatherings, aside from a debate over moderating the party's platform that is expected to take place Sunday afternoon. But the main draws were Bachmann and Paul, the winner of an informal straw poll of delegates Saturday.
Bachmann predicted Friday that California would side with Republicans in 2012, a distinct improbability given voting registration trends and recent history in the Golden State.
"I'm here to announce to you tonight, we will take our country back in 2012 and together we will make Barack Obama a one-term president," Bachmann said. "President Obama's numbers are the lowest they have ever been, and I'm just here to say they haven't hit rock bottom yet.… We have got a message and we have got a winning streak. I firmly believe 2012 will be a blowout election."
Bachmann's comments notwithstanding, a recent USC/Los Angeles Times poll showed Obama with expansive leads over Republican candidates in California. A Republican victory in the state's 2012 general election would be the first since 1988.
At the convention, Bachmann discussed her upbringing, her family and her faith. She ignored her GOP rivals, focusing solely on Obama to criticize his handling of the economy, foreign relations and healthcare and contend that he has abused his executive power.
Paul slammed Washington politicians for what he cast as perverted monetary, economic and foreign policy, and said the role of government should be limited to preserving liberty.
"We know our rights do not come from government. Our rights come from our creator. Therefore our liberty comes from our creator as well," Paul said. "Therefore, if we believe in that … you ought to have the right to work hard and you ought to have the right to keep what you earn."
Moving away from the gold standard first in the 1930s and further in the 1970s set the stage for current economic problems, he said, and politicians, including Republicans, made it worse by increasing the nation's deficit.
"We just can't spend and print our way out of it any longer," Paul said.
He reiterated his call to audit the Federal Reserve, a demand that the other GOP presidential candidates have adopted and one that drew roars from the crowd. And he castigated Obama for sending the military into the Libya bombing campaign without congressional authorization.
"We need a strong national defense to defend this country but not to be the policeman of the world," he said.