ABC News’ Michael Falcone reports:
At an event billed by Iowa’s Republican Gov. Terry Branstad as the “first significant event of the caucus season,” five 2012 GOP presidential hopefuls offered sweeping criticism of President Obama and delivered pitches for their own candidacies.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who began the exploratory phase of his campaign for the Republican nomination last week, wasted no time painting a picture of his first day in office.
Among his top priorities if elected, Gingrich said he would “abolish every single czar in the White House and their offices” and reinstate President Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy to ensure, as Gingrich put it, that “no American tax money will go to abortions anywhere outside the U.S., period.”
More broadly, Gingrich complained that Republicans did not do enough to limit the power of the political left when they controlled the White House and that the country was in need of “deep” and “profound” political change.
“I think that we are at a crossroads that we cannot hide from,” the former House Speaker, who led the 1994 Republican Revolution, said.
He accused President Obama of sharing the views of the “secular socialist left” and called on Republicans to unite in their efforts to defeat him in 2012.
“There should be no distinction, between economic, national security and social conservatives,” Gingrich said.
At the gathering outside Des Moines, organized by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition, another potential candidate, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, focused on religious values and social issues.
“We need to be a country that turns toward God, not a country that turns away from God,” Pawlenty said. “The constitution was designed to protect people of faith from government, not to protect government from people of faith.”
Pawlenty called the national debt “immoral,” said the unborn should have a “right to life” and defended traditional marriage. He also touted his record as governor of Minnesota where he said he fought back against entrenched Democratic interests to usher in conservative policies.
“I am the single-season record holder for issuing vetoes in Minnesota,” he noted.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told the audience of several hundred Iowans who gathered Monday night at the Point of Grace Church in Waukee, Iowa that he had been “out fighting the war” on moral issues as an elected official and in the years since he left Washington.
“I was the conservative’s conservative,” Santorum said. “I stood next to Barbara Boxer for hours on end and debated,” her. (He added, “There is a special place in heaven for me as a result of that, by the way.”)
Santorum said he fought so hard that his children used to think his first name was “ultra” — as in “ultra conservative” — as a result of the reputation he gained in the press.
“Once you stick your head out on the social issues, once you fight for the moral fabric of our country” he said, “you’re labeled.”
Former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer, who started a presidential exploratory committee last week, called himself “a seasoned warrior against special interest money,” touting his promise not take money from political action committees and cap all donations at $100.
“I’ve always been a church-going Methodist boy from a cotton field in north Louisiana,” Roemer said. “I’m a pro-life, traditional values man. I’m the only person thinking of running for president who was elected as a congressman and as a governor.”
Roemer noted that he spent four terms in Congress as a Democrat — “worked with Ronald Reagan every day,” he said — before switching to the Republican Party as governor of Louisiana.
The country, Roemer said, is in trouble, citing out of control spending and a growing national debt. “What is Washington doing?” he asked. “Thank God for the Tea Party.”
Herman Cain, a Georgia businessman and the former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, said he decided to launch a presidential exploratory committee because he was “compelled into a position of leadership.”
If elected, Cain said, he would focus on changing the nation “from an entitlement society to an empowerment society,” adding that only businesses not government could create jobs.
“Let me ask you a rhetorical question: When was the last time anything was micromanaged from Washington, DC and it worked?” Cain asked. “Time’s up.”