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Conservatives convene, bask in Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s victory

By Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune –

CHICAGO — Basking in neighboring Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s recall-election victory, conservatives convened on the outskirts of President Barack Obama’s hometown Friday to tout the Wisconsin experience as a model for the fall while listening to prospective presidential running mates pitch their experience and credentials.

“Mr. President, did you hear Scott Walker won in a landslide? It’s hard for me to say that without gloating,” Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential vice presidential contender, told an estimated 2,000 people who met for the first Chicago-area Conservative Political Action Conference in suburban Rosemont, Ill. “I wonder if it worries anybody at Team Obama. I think it might.”

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, another name frequently mentioned to pair with presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, chided Obama for failing to appear with Walker’s Democratic challenger, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

“Where was the president during this recall election? Why didn’t he come to Wisconsin to save the day?” Jindal asked. “He shrunk from this challenge. He elected to stay away from Wisconsin for fear of losing. That’s not what leaders do.”

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, also lauded Walker as an example that “results-oriented conservatism is what we need in America.” McDonnell, another name in the veepstakes who leads a top-tier presidential state targeted by both parties, said the RGA pumped $9.5 million into Walker’s race.

Neither Romney, who was campaigning in Iowa, nor Walker, who was meeting with business leaders in his home state, attended the conference. Walker released a letter through Wisconsin radio talk show host Charlie Sykes.

“In a moment of crisis, there have been men and women of courage who dared to think about the future of their children and grandchildren more than they did about their own personal futures. Let this be one of those moments, not only in Wisconsin but across America,” Walker’s letter stated.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, also a potential vice presidential candidate, offered “condolences” to Illinoisans in the crowd. Christie said that when he was a federal prosecutor and even now as governor, he thanks God in his nightly prayers for keeping Illinois ahead of New Jersey when it comes to government corruption and higher taxes.

Christie labeled as an “outrage” Obama’s comments Friday faulting Republicans for not doing more to help state and local governments because “the big challenge we have in our economy right now is state and local government hiring has been going in the wrong direction.”

“The president fundamentally believes that the way to support our economy is to take more taxes from all of you and spend it on more public workers who will then pay a fraction of that money back in taxes. If anybody ran a business like that, they would be out of business quickly and Barack Obama’s leadership is driving this business, the United States of America, toward a fiscal cliff,” Christie said. “He’s the one who put forward an ineffective, wasteful stimulus plan that did nothing to help this economy.”

Despite the cattle call at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, the winner of a vice presidential straw poll of 520 CPAC attendees wasn’t there. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio was the favorite for running mate of 30 percent, followed by Christie with 14 percent. Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan was next at 9 percent, ahead of Sen. Paul at 8 percent and Jindal at 7 percent.

It was at CPAC’s Washington conference in February where Romney forcefully sought to assert his conservative credentials in a still-fluid battle for the Republican nomination. At that event, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum contended Romney had given birth to the “stepchild of Obamacare” as governor of Massachusetts and questioned whether a lack of voter interest existed for the then-GOP front-runner.

On Friday, as Santorum announced the formation of a super political action committee, Patriot Voices, the former presidential contender said he has been “happy to join” Romney’s effort to win the presidency.

Still, Santorum said he hasn’t released to Romney the more than 250 national nominating delegates he amassed during the primary and caucus season. That’s largely because Texas Rep. Ron Paul has indicated he wants to use his more than 100 delegates to try to influence the national Republican platform and other convention matters.

Santorum, who got 5 percent support in the CPAC poll, said he was not about to offer any names of potential running mates to Romney.

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