Top Talker: Republican Leadership Conference begins in New Orleans

Updated
By Liz Grodd
Republican presidential hopeful, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Thursday, June 16, 2011.
Republican presidential hopeful, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich speaks at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Thursday, June 16, 2011.

Some key GOP presidential candidates kicked off the Republican Leadership Conference last night in New Orleans. Newt Gingrich was the first candidate to address the crowd and attack President Obama.  Gingrich said, “He is a natural, secular European Socialist. He believes in big government, he believes in centralized power…That is the opposite of freedom.”

Just days before the official roll out of his presidential campaign, former U.S. Ambassador to China, John Huntsman was also slated to speak at the event but  sources close to Huntsman say the former Utah governor had to cancel due to a cold. Instead, his wife and daughters are expected to attend and meet with supporters.

Two other notable 2012 contenders, Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney, were also no-shows at the conference. Pawlenty’s absence comes as the former Minnesota governor faces questions about his “Obamneycare” comment from Sunday in which he lumped Mitt Romney in with President Obama for their health care plans. He was hesitant to address the issue at the GOP debate on Monday. Yesterday, Pawlenty admitted he made a mistake by not confronting Romney at the debate.  On Fox News, he said, “I don’t think we can have a nominee that was involved in the development and construction of ObamaCare and then continues to defend it. And that was the question. I should have answered it directly. “

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Top Talker: Republican Leadership Conference begins in New Orleans

Updated