Howard Moye sat in the last row with his arms crossed watching Mitt Romney tell conservatives why they should nominate him to challenge President Obama.
Romney spouted off line after line aimed at the crowd at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. He said that “we conservatives … cling to our Constitution,” that “if you’re not fiscally conservative, you’re bankrupt,” and that “my presidency will be a pro-life presidency.”
After each pitch, the audience in the voluminous ballroom at the Marriott in northwest Washington applauded, at times standing and cheering.
Moye just sat there, staring.
Romney has struggled throughout the GOP primary to sway conservatives, who have bounced around from candidate to candidate as they searched for an alternative. Newt Gingrich got a boost in popularity. So did Rick Santorum. Even Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry enjoyed moments in which they were the conservative voters’ hero.
That voter is Moye, a longtime farmer from Greenville, N.C., who now runs a real estate business. He’s always voted for Republican candidates, he thinks the nation needs to be saved, and he’s not sure the president’s birth certificate is real.
At last year’s CPAC show, Moye was blown away by Bachmann. “That lady could be president,” he told his wife at the time. He donated $500 to her presidential campaign and supported her throughout the year, but after Bachmann dropped out in January, Moye turned to Gingrich.
The South Carolina primary was good for Gingrich, and Moye had hope. But the candidate lost his momentum in Florida, and Moye had doubts. Now he thinks Santorum might be the best bet to be the party’s conservative choice.
There’s still hope for Romney. Moye is the type of voter that Romney needs to win over if he wants to wrap up the nomination sooner rather than later and unite the party behind him before the general election kicks into high gear.
“He said the right things today,” Moye said after Romney’s CPAC speech. “He needs to be talking plain.”
Moye is skeptical of Romney’s background as a “mega-millionaire” who looks like the “stereotype of what the president wants to run against.” He thinks that Romney is “trying to buy the presidency.” He says Romney isn’t being honest when he talks about his plan to fix entitlement programs, and he’s wary of his promises on taxes.
But after hearing Romney today, Moye said that if he were halfway toward supporting Romney, he’s two-thirds of the way there now.
Watching the candidate’s speech, Moye grunted and nodded as Romney said that “Barack Obama is the poster child for the arrogance of government.” He clapped three times when Romney said public workers’ benefits should be cut. And when the audience cheered as Romney said he’d end ObamaCare, Moye noted, “That’s what everybody wants.”
Conservative voters might look to Romney’s speech not necessarily as a reason to vote for him in the primary, but more of a reassurance that they could settle for him once he’s the official GOP nominee.
“This was good today,” Moye said.