DENVER — Still reeling from Thursday's Supreme Court decision, conservatives gathered Saturday at the annual Western Conservative Summit to lick their wounds, shake their fists and vow to strike back in November.
A highly charged line-up of prominent conservative speakers told the 1,300 attendees to move beyond their anger at the Supreme Court's decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act and use the only remedy left to them: electing Republicans in November who will repeal the law.
"You're mad as hell. Okay, so am I. But it's time to channel it – it's time to channel it into action," said former Education Secretary Bill Bennett. "The American people made a terrible mistake in electing Barack Obama. Let's hope they have seen it and let's hope they will correct it. While we're mad, let's channel it, and let's channel it into a positive direction this fall."
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer noted that Colorado, which went for President Obama in 2008, is a swing state considered vital to the president's 2012 reelection chances.
"President Obama thinks Arizona and probably your state too is in play," said Mrs. Brewer. "He thinks he can win our states. Well, I say, 'Game on.' And I'm going to fight and I'm going to travel our country and I'm going to speak with everything in me to return a Republican to the White House."
Mrs. Brewer had another bone to pick with the Obama administration: The Justice Department severed a law-enforcement partnership agreement with Arizona Monday in the hours after the Supreme Court ruled constitutional a key piece of the state's anti-illegal immigration law.
"Once again they've denied us the resources we need, yet they also deny us the right to protect ourselves," said Mrs. Brewer.
The Arizona Republican referred to a January incident in which she was famously photographed wagging her finger at the president moments after he arrived at the Phoenix airport. Mr. Obama was in Colorado Springs Friday to survey wildfire damage.
"I actually offered to greet him at the airport yesterday, but of course the White House, they declined," said a smiling Brewer.
In its third year, the three-day conference drew 1,300 attendees, about 500 more than the previous year, even with more than 100 cancellations due to the Waldo Canyon fire that destroyed 347 homes last week, said organizers.
The summit is sponsored by the Centennial Institute, the think-tank at Colorado Christian University headed by former Colorado Senate Majority Leader John Andrews. The event is scheduled to conclude Sunday with a straw poll on the Republican vice-presidential pick.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney sent his regrets, but his presence was hard to miss. He welcomed the crowd with a video message, while the campaign sent dozens of Romney volunteers in bright blue "Romney for President" T-shirts and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead filled in as a surrogate speaker.
"There is only one candidate who knows and appreciates the West, and that candidate is Mitt Romney," said Mr. Mead. "Since the 2008 presidential election, the mood has shifted dramatically here. Colorado has more registered voters than Democratic voters. Voter enthusiasm I believe is on the Republican side. So come on, Colorado, come on!"
Speaker after speaker described the 2012 election as a turning point in American history. With the Supreme Court voting 5-4 to uphold the health-care law, also known as Obamacare, the only way to block it is for Congress to repeal it and the president to sign it.
"The Court had its say June 28. The people in this room and in this country will have their say on Nov. 6," said Rep. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican. "There is no time in our history that champions of limited government have been so greatly needed than they are right now."
Easier said than done, given that Democrats now hold the White House and a 53-to-47 member majority in the Senate. Polls show Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney running neck and neck in Colorado.The president lost at least one Colorado vote. Former Denver District Attorney Craig Silverman told the crowd that he supported for Mr. Obama over Republican nominee John McCain in 2008, a move he now regrets based on the president's arms-length relationship with Israel.
"Even though I had sincere doubts about John McCain, I apologize to you," said Mr. Silverman. "It won't happen again. I can no longer defend Barack Obama, especially on those most important issues: the safety of America, and the safety of the Jewish state of Israel."
Colorado state Sen. Kevin Lundberg, who's running for Congress against Democratic Rep. Jared Polis, said the court's decision had changed the tenor of the November election.
"The Roberts court may have turned this election into a referendum on Obamacare, or should I call it 'Obamatax,' and a referendum on the sovereignty of every state government and every citizen," said Mr. Lundberg. "If the court cannot follow the constitution, we need a Congress that can."
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