More than 1,000 people crowded into the in Troy on Saturday to attend the Michigan Prosperity Forum, a rally hosted by Americans for Prosperity – Michigan just three days before the presidential primary.
The conservative organization – which has roughly 67,000 members in Michigan, according to Americans for Prosperity president Tim Phillips – brought in several notable speakers, including conservative journalist Michelle Malkin, commentator and online publisher Andrew Breitbart, WJR radio show host Frank Beckmann and former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain in addition to presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.
Saline resident Cindy Vlisides attended the event with her husband "to support my conservative ideas."
"It's very exciting to see some of the younger people out here," Dryden resident Ethan Nowak said. "My parents influenced me to come here today. ... I'm learning a lot."
Santorum touts his conservatism, calls Obama a 'snob'
Santorum was the first Republican presidential candidate to stop in, arriving to a standing ovation less than an hour into the rally. An energized crowd whooped, hollered and cheered Santorum as he spoke about cutting government spending, restoring conservative values, reducing government control and creating jobs.
"We have a government and a leader who believes that he knows best," Santorum said, "and the biggest example of that is Obamacare. I would not be in this race if it wasn't for Obamacare. ... It is robbing us of our essential freedoms."
Though he said he did not support the Wall Street or auto industry bailouts, Santorum said he does understand what it's like to come from a manufacturing background and the importance of those jobs.
"Not all folks are gifted in the same way. Some people have incredible gifts ... and want to work out there making things," Santorum said. "Obama said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob."
Santorum also blasted global warming, taking a jab at opponent Romney in the process.
"I don't go out and crow that I opposed the first carbon cap on power plants as Gov. Romney did ... and talk about how we're responding to the severe threat of manmade global warming," Santorum said. "I didn't buy it. I didn't buy climate science."
Touting himself as the most conservative candidate, Santorum encouraged audience members to vote for him Tuesday. "Every time we've run a moderate, we've lost," he said. "Every time we've run a conservative ... we've won."
Romney emphasizes Michigan roots, vows cuts
Three hours after Santorum spoke, Romney and his wife, Ann, arrived, also receiving a standing ovation from the excited crowd.
"It's good to be back in the place we called home for the first 19 years of my life," Romney said once the applause died down.
Ann Romney emphasized their Michigan roots, saying, "If you cut us open and we bleed, we bleed Vernors."
Ann, whose father owned a business in Troy, shared her story with the audience. "When my father was 15, they emigrated right to here. To here," she said, pointing emphatically to the floor. "This is where we got our start."
Like Santorum, Romney also emphasized cutting government spending, reducing debt and restoring conservative values.
"I will cut spending, I will cap spending and I will finally balance the budget," he said, drawing applause. Like Santorum, he said he would also cut President Obama's health care plan as well as funding to organizations like PBS, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
"They're wonderful, but I'm not willing to borrow money from China to pay for them," he said, receiving more applause. "This is not a time for business as usual in Washington. It's a time for principled conservative leadership."
Attendees call rally a success
Many of those present at the rally said they attended just to be around other conservatives. Others, including Oakland Township resident Mary Jo Grohs, said they attended because they wanted to learn more about the candidates and hear them speak.
"I felt we had to do something," said Grohs, who was there with her husband. "We're tired of Obama and felt we had to learn what was going on and do something."
Troy resident and Romney fan Kevin Stubbings said he found out about the rally when his son called him to say he had just seen Romney's tour bus driving around Troy.
"I've been a long-term resident, and I've been a long-term Republican," Stubbings said. "I just appreciate them coming out to Troy and visiting with us today."
Theresa Farah of Davison said she and her daughter, Kari Farah, enjoyed the rally. "I think it's great," she said.
"I think the crowd is great," Kari Farah said. "There's a lot more people than I thought there would be, but they've energized the debate, so that's what we were hoping for."
"I'm still torn, I don't know which way I'm going to go," Lapeer resident Bill Gavette said. "For me, I thought this was great."
Other local politicians also attended the rally included Donald Volaric, who is running for the 9th Congressional District seat, and Rep. Marty Knollenberg. Troy Mayor Janice Daniels did not appear to attend the event.
"I'm here to support this conservative movement," Volaric said. "We've got to stop this before it becomes part of our history."
"I think as we look at someone to be our president, we have somebody here that's a leader," said Knollenberg, a Romney supporter.
He added that Troy plays a crucial part in a potential candidate's victory in Oakland County. "If Republicans want to win in Michigan, they've got to win Oakland County," Knollenberg said. "Troy being the largest city, it's going to be a key part of all of this."
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