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April 12. 2014 9:03PM

GOP political gathering was a party for many


Rep Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) speaks during Freedom Summit held at the Executive Court Banquet Facility in Manchester on Saturday. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER - Orford tree farmer Tom Thomson announced he'd "just cut a deal in the back room" with Donald Trump to sell New Hampshire maple syrup at Trump Tower.

Newt Gingrich presented the Conservative of the Year Award to state Rep. Bill O'Brien, "from one speaker to another."

And a handful of young voters were hanging around outside, hoping for a chance to meet Sen. Rand Paul.

It may have been the warmest day of the year so far, but it almost felt like it should have been winter, given the number of potential presidential candidates at Saturday's Freedom Summit.

The event, sponsored by Citizens United and the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, drew some of the biggest names in conservative politics to the Executive Court Banquet Facility.

But some of the best moments may have come in between the big speeches.

Business owner Steve Kenda of North Hampton, who introduced Trump, talked about the difference between being "involved" and being "committed." He gave the example of a breakfast of eggs and bacon: "The chicken's involved; the pig's committed."

And what this country needs, he said, is "committed leadership - pig-committed."

Borrowing a page from his late father, former Gov. Mel Thomson, Tom Thomson hoisted an oversized ax with the words: "Ax Obamacare." Thomson is honorary chairman of Americans for Prosperity in New Hampshire.

He read from a speech his father gave 42 years ago, warning of the rising public debt: "The power to tax is the power to destroy."

Thomson also put in a plug for the state's lack of a sales or income tax and urged visitors in town for the event to "spend some extra time and do some shopping before you leave the state."

Michelle Knesbach is a freshman at Dartmouth College and president of Young College Republicans there. She was wearing a shirt reading: "Young conservatives are fiscally attractive."

Knesbach, 19, is from Houston and recalled campaigning for Sen. Ted Cruz there before he became a national figure. "It's really cool to see him up here in New Hampshire," she said.

Alex Tucci of Hudson, 18, was waiting outside to try to meet Sen. Paul, R-Ky. A senior at Alvirne High who plans to attend a military academy, he said the next President will have to appeal to the youth vote.

Shaun Doherty, a former state representative from Pelham, said he was impressed with Saturday's lineup of speakers. But isn't it a bit early for the 2016 primary season to be starting?

"It's never too early," he said with a big grin.

A small group of protesters stood at the entrance to the Executive Court holding a hand-painted sign: "Democracy for Sale."

Eric Zulaski of Manchester had a message for those inside: "I don't believe our government should be run by moneyed interests. ... It should represent the people's interests."

He said the Supreme Court ruling on campaign spending in the Citizens United case "is contributing to the corruption of our government."

And Kathryn Talbert of Manchester said, "We're here to tell people that with Citizens United having passed, democracy's for sale. And if people don't have enough money, if they're not one of the big players, then their concerns aren't important."

The protesters might have been a bit surprised by the speech by Arthur Brooks, an economist and president of the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

Brooks noted that the stock market has gone up 105 percent since Barack Obama became President in 2009, and he said 81 percent of those gains have gone to those in the top 10 percent of income. "Here's what I resent: the bottom half is being left behind at the same time," he said.

The number of Americans on food stamps is up 50 percent since 2009, which he said is "unpatriotic" and "un-American."

But Brooks said if they want to win elections, conservatives need to change how they talk about such issues. "Until we stop fighting against things and start fighting for people, Americans are going to think we don't care."

Bumper stickers on vehicles in the parking lot spoke for the passions of those attending. "Eternal Vigilance/Gun Owners of New Hampshire," read one on a Kia van.

"The Constitution/Read it for the Articles," was on a Mazda CX-9, and "Don't Tread on Me" was on a Subaru Impreza.

Then there was the "Scott Brown/Your U.S. Senator" on a Jeep 4x4 - with a Massachusetts license plate.


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