WASHINGTON – Social conservatives across the nation convened Friday in the nation's capital to hear Republican presidential hopefuls pitch what they value at a much anticipated summit that is expected to provide an early prediction of which candidate will win the favor of Christian conservatives.
Under patriotic colored lights and an American flag backdrop, nine Republican candidates are appealing for the vote of more than 2,500 values voter from 48 states during the two-day "Washington Briefing 2007: Values Voter Summit."
The summit, hosted by the conservative group Family Research Council, is the largest platform for presidential candidates to address social conservatives. This year's event saw a 50 percent increase in attendance compared to last year, according to FRC's president, Tony Perkins.
The FRC head opened the event by listing the key issues for value voters – restoring a culture of life, upholding marriage as between one man and one woman, promoting pro-family values, protecting religious freedom, and supporting the nation's defense and responsible foreign policy.
"Wherever we go, we must take with us the message of faith, freedom, and family," Perkins said. "We must not waver in our commitment to these values, my friends, because they will determine not only our generation but the future of generations to come."
The seven candidates who spoke Friday all pledged to fight abortion and gay "marriage."
Former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney arguably received the warmest welcome by the crowd who stood up to clap when they got on stage and excitedly flashed cameras at the presidential hopefuls.
Thompson wooed the conservative Christian crowd by saying his personal experience through seeing his child's sonogram helped solidify his pro-life stance.
"I will never feel the same again because my heart is now fully engaged with my head," said the former Law & Order actor. "No legislation that funds this procedure (abortion) will pass my desk without my veto."
Thompson highlighted his 100 percent pro-life voting record during his eight years in office.
"I'm proud of that voting record. That's who I was then, that's who I am today, and that what I will be as president," Thompson said.
The former Tennessee senator also said he is opposed to embryonic stem cell research and would help to put more judges like Chief Justice John Roberts in the Supreme Court.
Thompson admitted that he had no idea what he would do in his first 100 days in the White House, but knew what he would do in the first hour.
"I would go into the Oval Office and pray for the wisdom to know what's right," said the man who has also confessed to not attending church regularly. "In my first hour I would pray for the strength to do what's right."
Despite the warm reception by the audience, some were heard saying Thompson's speech was "overwhelmingly disappointing." He did not clearly enunciate his values nor provide a detail picture of his goals in office to improve America.
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was also well-received by the crowd, which didn't seem to be bothered by his Mormon faith. Romney repeatedly emphasized his strong pro-family stance saying he is pro-family "on every level from personal to political."
"America's future will be determined not only by heads of states but heads of household," he said at the opening of his address.
If elected, Romney plans to make wedlock births "out of fashion," convene a White House summit to strengthen the family especially of those living in the inner city, push through a federal amendment law to protect the definition of marriage, appoint pro-life justices who understand judicial restraint and won't legislate from the bench, and oppose using tax dollars to support abortion domestically and overseas.
Romney also vowed to ban embryonic cloning, increase adoption, fight internet pornography and drug, provide better schools, and protect freedom of religious expression.
He said some in the crowd might have heard he was Mormon but failed to address how his faith will affect his decisions in office.
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, meanwhile, highlighted his military experience and focused mostly on national defense including the Iraq war and the battle against Islamic extremism.
He called Islamic extremism the new "evil" to be fought and vowed if elected he would not surrender to terrorism. He also said he is committed to victory in Iraq, garnering applauds from the audience.
Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, California Rep. Duncan Hunter, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul also spoke at Friday's event.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee are scheduled to address the crowd Saturday morning.
Other well-known speakers on Friday include former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and comedian and star of the new film Expelled Ben Stein.
Organizers on Friday repeatedly brought to attention and sometimes criticized the Democratic presidential candidates for failing to join the summit. They said that all Democratic contenders were sent the same invitation to speak at the event but all ignored the invitation with the exception of one candidate who sent an official letter of decline.