NEW ORLEANS: US Republicans uneasy with their field of White House hopefuls heard Friday they must set aside dreams of a “perfect” challenger to President Barack Obama in 2012 and back their eventual nominee.
“Don't get hung up on purity. In politics purity is a loser,” Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a former national party chief, told activists at a conference in this party city. “It is unity that wins elections.”
A new public opinion poll by NBC television and the Wall Street Journal found that Republican primary voters are evenly split at 45 percent on whether they are satisfied with their presidential field -- down from 73 percent at this point in the 2008 White House race.
And just 24 percent said they were extremely or quite confident that former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the frontrunner in the nominating contest, has the skills or ability to be president.
Barbour invited Republicans to fight for their preferred candidate to take on Obama and enjoy a “rock 'em, sock 'em” primary but warned “we're not going to have a perfect candidate” and said the party must close ranks.
“If you split the conservative vote, that is the best thing for the left,” he said, quipping that Obama had “worn out three sets of kneepads” praying that the archconservative “Tea Party” movement would try to become its own party.
Barbour's message -- echoed by other notables addressing what is arguably the largest gathering of its kind outside the party's nominating convention -- drew a mixed response from the crowd.
“No way,” said Phil DaCosta, 42, who was wearing four buttons announcing his support for Republican Representative Michele Bachmann. “I'm sick of giving up our principles. When we do that, we lose.” The insiders in Washington need to get out and let the people pick their president,” the Atlanta, Georgia, resident told AFP.
Next to him, wearing four buttons declaring his support for former Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, John Wells disagreed.
Barbour “was exactly right,” he told AFP. “We're going to select a nominee at the end of the day that will be the best alternative to Obama, and we have to beat Obama.” Wells, 61, said he preferred Palin, who was not scheduled to address the gathering, but had hoped to hear from former US ambassador to China Jon Huntsman, who canceled his appearance here due to illness.
“That was disappointing,” he said. “I wanted to hear from Huntsman.”And Zora Massing of South Carolina agreed.
“I don't have a favorite yet,” she said, citing Romney, former pizza chain chief executive Herman Cain, and former House speaker Newt Gingrich among her favorites. “But we've got to beat Obama.”
Republicans have been grousing that they lack the kind of champion who could make the most of Obama's undeniable political vulnerabilities -- chiefly historically high unemployment amid an anemic economic recovery.