ROSEMONT, Ill -- Three potential vice presidential picks Friday descended on the Windy City to address conservative activists, and each used his talk as a chance to jump on President Barack Obama for his comment that "the private sector is doing fine."
Republican governors Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal and Bob McDonnell spoke to a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Conservative Political Action Conference held just outside of Chicago. All drew warm receptions as they blasted the president's recent remarks on the economy and touted the significance of Gov. Scott Walker's recall election victory on Tuesday in Wisconsin.
"Delighted to see all you in the private sector are doing just fine," McDonnell said with a grin as he took the stage.
"He is so separated from reality that today you may have seen his comments. He said the private sector was doing quite well," Jindal worked in during his speech. "Mr. President, I've got a message for you: The private sector is not doing well when 23 million Americans are unemployed and underemployed in
this great country. This president, the private sector is so foreign to him he might need a passport to actually go visit and he might need a translator to help him talk to folks in the private sector."
And Christie, who took the stage moments after the president concluded the press conference, found Obama's remarks about cuts to local and state governments to be the most objectionable.
"He was talking about why job growth hasn't been as robust as it should be. And this is what he said … He said one of the reasons is because state and local government hiring is going in the wrong direction," Christie said. He later added, "It is an outrage to have the president of the United States stand up and say to hard working governors, Republicans and Democrats around this country, that state and local government hiring is moving in the wrong direction and we're to blame because the economy's not growing."
Of the three, the New Jersey governor was the most enthusiastically received during his address in which he chronicled how the blunt style he used to negotiate with Garden State Democrats could be used as a model for the country.
"The job of a leader, the job of a governor, the job of a president, is to get the people in the room and bang enough heads together and rub enough arms and cajole enough to have them put the country and the state¹s greater interest ahead of their own personal, partisan interest," Christie said. "That¹s what we did in New Jersey and that’s the model for America."
Also taking the stage at CPAC Chicago were former Republican presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Herman Cain, along with popular conservatives Sen. Rand Paul, Gov. John Kasich and Richard Mourdock. All had warm words for GOP nominee Mitt Romney, a contrast from the CPAC held in Washington in February during a fierce primary fight. Although the level of enthusiasm about the nominee varied from speaker to speaker, all agreed on the importance of rallying the base to defeat the president.
One of the most enthusiastic Romney appeals came from the outgoing Virginia governor.
"We need a change, and that change is Mitt Romney. This is a guy that is a man of faith, a man of character, a guy I know a little bit about," McDonnell said. "I'm honored to be a surrogate going around the country for Mitt Romney. Because, he has a record. Yes, his dad was a governor, but he didn't get anything handed to him. He worked; he used his talents to do good things."
But his speech also highlighted the tough balancing act McDonnell will have to navigate as a governor in a swing state. He touted how his state has lowered unemployment and is well on its way to economic recovery. "People are back to work and are just participating in the American dream in Virginia and we think that¹s a great thing," he said.
It is a message that conflicts with the Romney campaign's core message that Obama has failed to fix the economy or create jobs.
And though three of the most-talked-about vice presidential short-listers happened to be in the same place, there were few clues of who the final pick might be in contention. Speaking to reporters, Jindal said, "When it comes to the whole VP question, look, I’ve got the job that I want, I’m not going to speculate on what Gov. Romney is going to do; I’m not going to comment on his process the same way four years ago I didn’t comment on any of the speculation back then. All I’m going to say is that I look forward to supporting whoever Gov. Romney selects to be on his ticket."
But results of a straw poll taken at the conference show that conservatives may prefer someone who was not in attendance on Friday.
With a commanding 30 percent of the vote, CPAC attendees chose Florida Sen. Marco Rubio took as their top choice to join the Republican ticket.