WASHINGTON (CNN) - On Friday, in the midst of a campaign year defined by President Bush’s potential impact on his party’s political fortunes, he offered conservatives a defiant account of his historical legacy – and a plea to rally behind the Republican nominee, and hold on to the White House.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Bush pointed to his decisions on a host of controversial issues that have defined his presidency – from tax cuts and judicial nominees and stem cell research - and described their outcome in defiant language that has become familiar in recent months.
“Critics had a different view…. We stood our ground,” he said repeatedly. “On these issues, both sides have made their case. The results are in. And they are proving us right.”
Friday marked the president’s first – and final – visit to CPAC since he arrived in the White House.
He was here this morning with an eye towards the history books, and his legacy – not just as leader of the nation, but standard-bearer of the conservative movement. And this annual gathering, which draws thousands of activists from across the country, was the ideal venue to make his case.
Bush has had a complex relationship with the conservative base. They embraced his presidential candidacy early, and were key footsoldiers in both his White House runs.
While his approval rating from the public at large has remained mired in the low 30s for much of his second term, conservatives have consistently given him far higher marks in the same opinion polls.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Republican Mike Huckabee’s underdog campaign got a shot in the arm Thursday night when he won the endorsement of Focus on the Family founder and evangelical icon James Dobson.
“Obviously, the governor faces an uphill struggle, given the delegates already committed to Sen. [John] McCain,” he said. “Nevertheless, I believe he is our best remaining choice for President of the United States.”
Dobson – who said he held his endorsement until Mitt Romney suspended his presidential bid – has been a public admirer of Huckabee, citing the former Arkansas governor’s win in the Iowa caucuses as evidence religious voters are still a force to be reckoned with in the political arena.
“The results of the Iowa caucuses reveal that conservative Christians remain a powerful force in American politics. That had to be a great shock to those on the far left,” Dobson said in a statement shortly after the Iowa vote.
He also took aim at "media elites" for dismissing the influence of Christian voters, and said Huckabee's win "was evidence of an energized and highly motivated conservative community."
Focus on the Family sends Dobson’s views to millions through his daily radio broadcast, and sends its voter guides to millions more, thanks to a massive database that rivals those of any presidential campaign.
Dobson had not officially endorsed any presidential candidate until his Thursday statement – but had issued several anti-endorsements over the past few months, explaining to his followers why he could not support potential Republican nominees Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and John McCain.
Dobson endorsed President Bush’s re-election in 2004.
Dobson, who is often visited by GOP officials at Focus on the Family’s vast Colorado Springs campus, emphasized the fact that he was speaking as a private citizen – a standard disclaimer he attaches to all his political pronouncements. He praised Huckabee, a former Baptist minister, for his stands on social issues, saying the former governor’s views on marriage, the role of religion and the “sanctity of human life… resonate deeply with me and many others.”
“That is why I will support Gov. Huckabee through the remaining primaries, and will vote for him in the general election if he should get the nomination,” he said.
(CNN) – In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-California, explained and defended the involvement of so-called “superdelegates” in picking her party’s presidential nominee.
Superdelegates were established, Pelosi explained, in order to allow grassroots Democratic activists to attend the nominating convention without having to compete with high-ranking Democratic party officials for a coveted spot on the convention floor. “So, again, I don’t think that members of Congress, governors and senators are not attuned to what’s happening in their states and in their districts,” said Pelosi.
Asked by Blitzer whether she would be troubled by a brokered Democratic convention where superdelegates tipped the ballots in favor of either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama, Pelosi defended her party’s system. “These superdelegates are all part of their state delegation, so that state will speak,” Pelosi said, when its delegation participates in the convention. The superdelegates “work out their preference working with the people of their state,” she added.
Pelosi refused to weigh in on talk of a Democratic “dream ticket” involving both Clinton and Obama but she did note that roughly 15 million Americans voted for either Clinton or Obama on Super Tuesday. “The vitality of these two campaigns is attracting so many people,” said Pelosi.
Programming note: Watch Wolf Blitzer’s entire interview with Pelosi on Late Edition this Sunday beginning at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time.
–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart
(CNN) - Mike Huckabee said Thursday he will continue his quest for the Republican nomination, and directly appealed for support from backers of Mitt Romney’s now suspended presidential bid.
"As a true authentic, consistent, conservative, I have a vision to bring hope, opportunity and prosperity to all Americans, and I'd like to ask for and welcome the support of those who had previously been committed to Mitt," Huckabee said in a statement.
"This is a two-man race for the nomination, and I am committed to marching on. I believe in the importance of a strong national defense - which includes winning the war against Islamic extremists and the protection of American sovereignty," he continued.
Romney announced earlier Thursday he was suspending his presidential campaign. He did not endorse another candidate, but suggested he was clearing the way for John McCain's nomination.
"If I fight on in my campaign, all the way to the convention, I would forestall the launch of a national campaign and make it more likely that Senator Clinton or Obama would win," he said during a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference. "And in this time of war, I simply cannot let my campaign, be a part of aiding a surrender to terror."
Huckabee currently has 181 delegates compared to John McCain's 714.
- CNN Producer Alexander Mooney
Related: Huckabee says he can still win the Republican nomination
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Yesterday, the first day of this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, was about the movement's present and future. Today, it's all about the past, as President Bush makes his first – and final – visit to the conference as commander-in-chief.
President Bush was absent from last year's CPAC gathering in more ways than one. Not only did the president himself not make an appearance – his would-be successors barely mentioned his name. (For the record: a year ago, the five major GOP presidential candidates mentioned the current White House occupant roughly half a dozen times between them, mostly in passing. Ronald Reagan's name came up more than four times as often.)
The president's speech early this morning is a valedictory – the conservative version of his final State of the Union address. It's his account for the history books, with a focus on how he has been the movement's standard-bearer on tax cuts, stem cells and national security – and a familiar, defiant apologia of his administration's Iraq war policy: "We refused to yield when the going got tough. And when the history of our actions is written, it will show that we were right."
As for the race to succeed him: Mitt Romney is out – but the candidate who may gain the most from his exit isn't Mike Huckabee (the beneficiary of a sudden endorsement from a James Dobson) or even John McCain (whose path to the Republican nomination now seems secure). That distinction actually goes to Barack Obama, who no longer has to compete with McCain for independents in suddenly-competitive primary states like Virginia, Texas and Ohio, where independent voters are eligible to vote in upcoming Democratic contests.
- CNN Associate Political Editor Rebecca Sinderbrand
Compiled by Jonathan Helman
CNN Washington Bureau
NY Times: Miscalculations Dogged Romney From the Start
Mr. Romney’s advisers acknowledged Thursday an array of tactical missteps and miscalculations. Perhaps most significantly, they conceded that they had failed to overcome doubts about Mr. Romney’s authenticity as they sought to position him as the most electable conservative in the race, a jarring contrast to his more moderate record as governor of Massachusetts.
Washington Post: Clinton Focuses on Matchup vs. McCain
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, making her first appearance in Virginia yesterday before Tuesday's regional primary, matched herself up not with opponent Sen. Barack Obama, but Sen. John McCain, who is on the verge of the Republican presidential nomination.
Washington Post: Romney Out, McCain Looks Ahead
Sen. John McCain effectively sealed the Republican presidential nomination yesterday when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney abruptly left the race. The senator from Arizona immediately turned his attention to repairing relations with disgruntled conservatives and to opening the general election campaign with a sharp critique of his Democratic rivals.
Washington Times: Huckabee On Track To Play The Spoiler
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a tremendous long shot for winning the Republican presidential nomination, but he has the potential to undermine Sen. John McCain's general election prospects, as Pat Buchanan did to President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
NY Times: Clinton’s Fund-Raising Success Is Outshined by Obama’s
With Super Tuesday behind them, the rivals have turned some of their ferocity away from voters and toward their donors, seeking the clear-cut victory in fund-raising that neither could secure at the ballot box this week, when Mr. Obama won 13 states and Mrs. Clinton 9.
Compiled by Rebecca Sinderbrand, CNN Washington Bureau
* Hillary Clinton attends town halls in Tacoma and Spokane, Washington.
* Mike Huckabee is in Kansas, where he attends rallies and media availabilities in Olathe and Wichita, a private business roundtable and media availability in Topeka, and a rally and media availability in Garden City.
* John McCain holds a national security roundtable and media availability in Norfolk, Virginia, a media availability in Wichita, Kansas and a meet and greet in Seattle.
* Barack Obama attends a rally in Seattle.
(CNN) - During a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference where former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney was expected to rally conservatives in support of his presidential bid, Romney instead announced that he was suspending his campaign. Romney told supporters his departure would help the Republican Party begin to the lay the groundwork for defeating Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama. Dana Bash was at the conservative gathering and reports on Romney's surprise announcement as well as Sen. John McCain's speech at the convention.
Suzanne Malveaux is on the campaign trail with Sen. Barack Obama. She reports on how Democrats are reacting to the shift in the dynamics of the presidential race caused by the end of Romney's bid.
Speaking of the Democrats, Jim Acosta takes a look at delegates and dollars - two critical factors in what might be a long, hard-fought race for the Democratic nomination.
Finally, Mary Snow reports on where Romney's exit leaves former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Will conservatives now rally around Huckabee? Snow looks for some indications about what the base of the Republican Party may do next.
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–CNN Associate Producer Martina Stewart