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At pre-debate panel, a celebration of conservatism

In advance of Monday night's CNN/Tea Party Express presidential debate in Tampa, the Heritage Foundation sponsored a lunchtime panel discussion on issues that matter to conservatives. About 200 people, many of them energetic Tea Party activists, attended at the Florida State Fairgrounds.

CNN political correspondent John King moderated a discussion that included Al Cardenas, a leading Florida Republican who is chairman of the American Conservative Union; Mike Franc of the Heritage Foundation; Bob McClure, president and CEO of the James Madison Institute and Billie Tucker, leader of the First Coast Tea Party in Jacksonville.

In remarks, Cardenas and Franc focused on their views of the state of the country: high taxes, high debt, high foreclosures and high unemployment and declining home ownership. "There's a growing sense that the American dream is slowly slipping away," Franc said.

"And don't tell me I have to buy health insurance!" Cardenas said to loud cheers.

McClure welcomed out-of-state visitors to Florida, "the most important bellwether state in the union, the land of Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Allen West and the land of Gov. Rick Scott." Big applause followed. The only Democrat who got even passing praise at the luncheon was New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, praised by McClure for cutting the state budget and taxes in the Empire State.  

Tucker got the most resounding applause for her speech describing the American way as "personal liberty, individual responsibility, and less government," and she said the debate itself is proof of the Tea Party movement's strength. "Here we are in Tampa, having our own debate on CNN," Tucker said, as many in the audience stood and cheered.

-- Steve Bousquet