This weekend's Western Conservative Summit at Colorado Christian University attracted four announced or prospective Republican presidential candidates, including high-profile Texas governor Rick Perry. But while long-shot Herman Cain's victory in a straw poll may have startled outsiders, it hardly came as a shock to Summit co-chair John Andrews.
"Herman Cain had the chance to speak right before the balloting closed," Andrews notes. "But he roused the hall like no one did all weekend. Rick Santorum and Rick Perry received only middling grades as orators, and John Bolton, who was also on the poll, gave a very learned foreign-policy overview, but nothing to stir the blood of Republicans and Tea Partiers and conservatives. So it was to Cain's advantage to speak last and speak best.
"It was fun to say the Denver straw poll upstaged the Ames straw poll in Iowa by a couple of weeks," he adds. "But in fairness, there was no intent of an organizing effort by campaigns to rally support among delegates. It was more of an impressionistic, spontaneous thing, where the strongest speech swept the poll."
Of course, passions were at full boil during the weekend, given that the Summit coincided with what Andrews calls "zero hour for the debt-ceiling deal. And certainly, the negotiations in Washington were a backdrop for everything the speakers said on the Summit weekend, whether it was presidential candidates or people holding public office now or the pundits and media stars we had."
Regarding the overall theme of the event, Andrews points to many of the topics he addresses in his new book, Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen's Guide to the Next American Century. "The pattern of history is that great nations will fade at around 250 years because of moral decay that translates into fiscal laxity," he maintains. "And how to beat the odds of that was sort of the big question for a thousand summit delegates from 25 states all weekend: How does America avoid fiscal suicide?"
One example was offered by author and columnist Mark Steyn, who talked about his forthcoming book, After America. "He sobered everybody with the likelihood that America's best days are behind us," Andrews recalls. "But then he rallied everyone by saying that the spirit of 'Let's roll' from Flight 93 could still save America."
One thing that doesn't need saving is the Summit itself, which has mushroomed in its two years of existence. Former Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong, the president of Colorado Christian University, "suggested in March 2010 that we try to do an annual summer political conference," Andrews reveals. "And I said, 'That's great. It'll give us plenty of time for 2011.' But he told me, 'Let's put our pedal to the metal,' and we did the first one in 2010. We thought we might get 300 people, but we got 900 at a small convention facility in Park Meadows. And this year, we sold out the downtown Marriott -- sold it out and then some. And we do intend to make it an annual affair" -- one to which both Dick Morris, the last speaker at both Summits to date, and former Secretary of Education William Bennett have already verbally committed.
"It's fun to put Denver a little more on the political map," he allows.
One more thing: We previewed the conference via a list of the twenty sexiest Summit speakers, and Andrews says, "It was a relief to me and Senator Armstrong that we were in the bottom ten." After all, "we have a stodgy reputation to protect."
See the complete list below.
20. Pollster Pat Caddell (a Democrat -- so he's got to finish last!)
19. Former Colorado Senator Bill Armstrong
18. Syndicated columnist Cal Thomas
17. Fox News contributor Dick Morris
16. Former UN ambassador John Bolton
15. Businessman Foster Friess
14. Center for Security Policy's Frank Gaffney
13. Political commentator Kate Obenshain
12. Summit co-chairman John Andrews
11. Presidential candidate Herman Cain
10. American Enterprise Institute's Arthur Brooks
9. Presidential candidate Rick Santorum
8. Fox News contributor Juan Williams
7. Salem Radio's Dennis Prager
6. The Daily Caller's Tucker Carlson
5. Freedom Nationally, Virtue Locally author Kevin Miller
4. Comedian Brad Stine (a ringer!)
3. The Big Black Lie author Kevin Jackson
2. Author and columnist Mark Steyn
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1. Texas Governor Rick Perry
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