Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rallied conservative Christians on… (David Goldman / Associated…)
TAMPA, Fla. -- About 1,000 Christian conservatives rallied against President Obama and for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in a sometimes-fiery gathering at a downtown theater Sunday afternoon.
Speakers at the Faith & Freedom Coalition gathering blamed Obama for a series of woes, including high unemployment, the rise of Islamic radicals and America’s purported moral decay.
Former House Speaker and failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich got in particularly sharp jabs at the president — calling him “the most extreme, pro-abortion president in U.S. history” and saying Obama effectively condoned the killing of children with his abortion stance as an Illinois lawmaker.
Gingrich stirred the crowd, as did organizer Ralph Reed, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, U.S. Senate candidate Red Cruz of Texas and a trio of Christian-oriented musical acts.
Though the oncoming Tropical Storm Isaac had not yet brought heavy weather, about half of the balcony in the 1,400-seat theater remained empty through the two-hour event. A demonstration by several liberal activists briefly interrupted the program before police hustled the interlopers out of the historic Tampa Theatre.
Still, Reed — the onetime Christian Coalition leader — predicted that a newly invigorated Christian activist community would carry Romney to victory in November.
Reed blamed Obama for a “pockmarked, bleak landscape” across America, saying that unemployment of more than 8% really amounted to double that when including all those who had given up hope of finding a job. He blamed Obama for other ills, including the rise of Islamic radicals in the Arab world, and condemned his support for same-sex marriage.
Reed said Christian conservatives had only themselves to blame for Obama’s 2008 victory. He said 17 million self-identified evangelicals failed to vote four years ago and that his Faith & Freedom group would not let that happen again.
Mailers will go to nearly 2 million voters in 10 key states, to be followed by 4 million phone messages, recorded by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Reed said. In all, he said the Christian activists planned to contact 30 million targeted voters -- hitting each a minimum of seven times.
“If we have to, we will crawl across broken glass, but we are coming and when we come we are going to have the biggest victory we have had for time-honored values in the history of this country,” Reed said. “That’s what’s getting ready to happen.”
Gingrich took a particularly harsh series of swipes at the Democratic president. He called Obama “a direct threat to the survival of the country I grew up in,” and — in a familiar turn — blamed the “elite media” for not questioning Obama more strongly about his abortion views. (He noted that the presidential race recently had focused on abortion, thanks in part to U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin’s remarks about “legitimate rape” and women’s purported ability to ward off pregnancy in such cases. But Gingrich said only one side -- the Republican one -- had been forced to defend its position.)
Obama voted against so-called infant definition bills as a state legislator in Illinois because he said they would unfairly restrict a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion. He said he would have been "fully in support" of a similar law on the federal level, signed in 2002, because it contained abortion rights protections.
Gingrich told the approving crowd this meant that Obama “stood out as uniquely, deeply committed to the killing of unborn children in a way that virtually nobody” else was.
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin had just begun his remarks late in the program when several young people near the stage began chanting “Walker hates workers!” Others in the balcony unfurled banners, including one that the demonstrators later said was painted with, “Walker has a Koch problem.”
Police and sheriff’s deputies quickly hustled the protesters out of the 86-year-old theater. They were cited for trespassing and warned that they would be arrested if they returned.
One of the demonstrators said afterward that several groups joined in the protest, including Food Not Bombs and Occupy Tampa. Nathan Pim, a graphic designer and puppeteer, said he and the others were protesting Walker’s initiative in Wisconsin to limit state workers’ collective bargaining rights.
Most of the crowd got what it came for.
Jeff Newmark of Winter Garden, Fla., who is in national account sales for a company he declined to identify, said he was “ecstatic” about the Romney/Ryan ticket.
“Two people who love this country, two people who love their faith, two people who love family, two people who will not sell us out, two people who will not divide this nation,” Newmark said. “Two people of morals and principles.”
A business manager for a Tampa construction who would give her name only as Sheley said she voted for Obama in 2008 and deeply regretted it now.
“I voted for Obama because of hope and change,” she said. “I think his hope and change have done nothing but disintegrate this country. He’s bankrupted Social Security and now he’s going to bankrupt Medicare. … He’s the anti-Christ, in my mind’s eye.”
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