newt cpacNewt Gingrich hasn't announced whether or not he's running for president, but you wouldn't know that from the way he's talking these days.
The former House Speaker and potential 2012 GOP hopeful used his speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference Thursday to directly challenge President Obama.
"Why are we falling behind?" Gingrich asked. Why is our country "in a mess?" Gingrich's answer? The anti-business Obama administration.
Gingrich suggested that Obama's popularity among the American people is tied to the media's biased support for him. "I hate to tell this to our friends at MSNBC," Gingrich said. "But Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan."
Gingrich helpfully offered the president some advice. He prescribed "7 Steps" to Obama to help him move to the center and really curry favor with conservatives—possibly even end up as a future speaker at CPAC one day, Gingrich suggested. (That is, if Obama earns it, he added.)
Gingrich's steps include repealing "Obamacare," establishing an American energy policy that includes eliminating the EPA, signing tort reform, repealing the "death tax" and other initiatives popular among conservatives.
The former House speaker was regarded as something of a rock star among CPAC attendees. A packed crowd of thousands in the Washington, D.C. hotel ballroom rose to their feet for his entrance to the '80s rock anthem, "Eye of the Tiger." And attendees applauded so frequently during the beginning of his address that Gingrich asked them to hold their reaction so he could actually talk.
Gingrich's profile at CPAC, which is sponsored by the American Conservative Union, was elevated to an even higher degree this year by the conference's relative lack of starpower. Former Govs. Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin skipped the conference, leaving former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as the standout headliner. (One celebrity—real estate mogul Donald Trump—is a last minute addition to the conference, though few are taking him seriously as a presidential contender.)
Many Gingrich supporters said they were pleased by the speech. "He's got core values that we believe in. He just sang our song," attendee Steve Hooper of Fall Branch, Tenn. told The Ticket. "You don't have to guess what he's trying to say when he says it," he added. Both Hooper and his wife said they planned to vote for Gingrich in CPAC's straw poll.
Attendee Paul Johnson of Morristown, N.J. said he was drawn to Gingrich's push for local and state's rights over the federal government. But Johnson won't be voting for Gingrich in this week's poll.
"I'm a little disappointed that Mrs. Palin didn't show up," Johnson said. "People who come here, they want to see [candidates] and that creates buzz." Johnson on Thursday afternoon said he was still debating between voting for Romney or Palin in the poll.
"It would seem to me that Mitt Romney never misses coming here," Johnson said.
(Photo of Gingrich: Alex Brandon/AP)