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Right wing embraces Delaware dark horse

By Alan Silverleib, CNN
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Huckabee blasts Obama's 'experiment'
  • NEW: O'Donnell slams big government "elites" for being "anti-American"
  • Social conservatives gather in Washington for an annual two-day conference
  • Sen. Jim DeMint defends his decision to back O'Donnell over Rep. Mike Castle
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says Obama has tried to cripple free enterprise

Washington (CNN) -- Hotly energized social conservatives gave a hero's welcome to Delaware political upstart Christine O'Donnell on Friday -- one of the highlights of a two-day gathering of so-called "values voters" that illustrated the GOP's promise and peril heading into November's midterm elections.

Speaker after speaker at the fifth annual Values Voter Summit celebrated a string of Republican primary upsets this year, and promised a revolution at the polls in November. They slammed the Obama administration for advancing what was characterized as a left-wing agenda that threatens to undermine the country's economy, security and moral foundation.

"Elites call us 'wacky.' They call us 'wing nuts.' We call us 'We the people,' " O'Donnell said. The elites "will never have the last word on liberty."

"Anti-Americanism taints every aspect of the ruling class," she said. But "there are more of us than there are of them."

How that populist conservative message will play before a broader general election audience remains to be seen.

O'Donnell was featured as part of a veritable "who's who" of rising Republican stars and possible 2012 presidential contenders attending the conference: Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, among others.

Video: Bachmann: Obama betrayed trust
Video: Romney: Obama exploited crisis
Video: Santorum: Freedom through virtue

O'Donnell, whose Senate candidacy triggered a vicious intra-party struggle between Tea Party activists and establishment leaders questioning her qualifications and electability, was being applauded for "valiantly defending faith, family and freedom," said conservative Family Research Council head Tony Perkins, who organizes the yearly conference in Washington.

In her remarks, O'Donnell slammed rising deficit spending and, in a throwback to the health care debate over so-called "death panels," complained about "unelected panels of bureaucrats" being empowered to decide who will receive medical care in America.

Abortion is available on demand, she said, but some federal officials want to stamp out the right to buy "a sugary soda from a vending machine."

The "tentacles of big government" have worked their way into every facet of American life, she said.

Some conservative leaders have been unapologetic about backing O'Donnell, who upset moderate 18-year Rep. Mike Castle in Tuesday's primary. Castle was heavily favored to win the seat in November, but O'Donnell is considered a long shot.

"Washington has treated Americans like they're stupid for too long," DeMint told the crowd.

"Folks, this is no longer [about] voting for the least worst on the ballot. We've got some candidates that we can be proud of. ... We know when they get to Washington that they are going to stand up and speak for you and the millions of Americans who for years have felt ignored."

DeMint also celebrated Tea Party favorite Joe Miller's defeat of Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

"Some senior Republicans in the Senate ... went out and campaigned on [a platform of] 'You need me because I can bring home the bacon,' " he said. But "even in Alaska, the home of bacon, they threw out that senator and ushered in Joe Miller," because he promised to be more fiscally responsible

Romney, who quickly jumped on the O'Donnell bandwagon with a $5,000 donation from his political action committee this week, blasted the White House for backing what he claimed are divisive policies that have failed to adequately reverse the economic downturn.

The Obama administration has implemented the most "anti-growth, anti-investment, anti-job measures we've seen in our lifetime," he said, adding that it has "declared war on free enterprise."

The former governor -- a possible 2012 presidential contender -- accused Obama of using the crisis atmosphere in early 2009 to ram through policies not directly tied to recovery efforts.

"America is sick and tired of an administration that exploited the economic crisis instead of solving it," he said.

Obama, Romney said, is the most divisive president in American history, and is headed for a major loss in November.

"Those who have such contempt for the private sector will soon find themselves back in it," he said, referring to Obama. The country is ready to repudiate "Obama-style liberalism."

As in years past, the results of a GOP presidential straw poll will be released at the end of the conference. Huckabee won last year's straw poll.

CNN's Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report