More than 1,000 people gathered at a historic Tampa theatre at 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon for a "Faith and Freedom Celebration" that promised to involve a bunch of leading Republicans talking about religion and religion-in-politics and how Barack Obama is ruining religion and politics both. A running diary of the proceedings from my wonderful vantage point:
2:05 PM: There is a black-clad choir. It is singing songs with country-like lyrics ("This is the land of the free/This is the home of the brave/This is the land of liberty - the USA") in choir-like ways. Everybody loves it.
2:16 PM: A non-famous speaker tells the attendees that they are going to be "part of an amazing process to restore America's greatness and founding principles." These may be themes.
2:20 PM: An invocation: "... Back to our faith. Back to submitting ourselves to the leadership of heaven. Back to allowing the principles and core values that come from your holy word for our life become the standard once again for our nation. Father, you have created us to be great..."
2:26 PM: Ralph Reed, smooth-talking former leader of the Christian Coalition, seamlessly executes a high-degree-of-difficulty transition between the tyranny of Bashar al-Assad and the dangers of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to Barack Obama's support for same-sex marriage. Gabby Douglas-esque. The man's a pro.
2:30 PM: Reed explains how his organization will be working to mobilize the religious vote. (Texting is involved.) Then he issues four pieces of advice - "Thirdly, vote. And fourthly, pray, for the next 72 days" - and appeals to attendees' feelings of victimhood: "We're going to endure the ridicule and the attacks and the insults, and if we have to, we're gonna crawl across broken glass."
The crowd cheers when he informs the crowd that the next speaker, Arkansas governor turned Fox News host Mike Huckabee, has the highest-rated show on weekend cable.
2:35 PM: Huckabee gets a hero's welcome. He rails about the Schiavo case, an "assault," without ever saying the name Schiavo; with this crowd, he doesn't have to. His attempt at a topical applause line: "We will make sure that the hurricane of this administration is way, way, way away from us come January of next year."
2:46 PM: Veteran activist Phyllis Schlafly brings the Phyllis Schlafly, claims Obama is waging a "war on religion."
2:59 PM: Over the music that is pressuring her, Oscars-like, to stop talking, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi concludes her rambling address by mentioning Mitt Romney for the first time all afternoon.
3:02 PM: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, serial adulterer, gets a just-sub-Huckabee level greeting from the faithful, then, soon, suggests Obama demonstrated as a state senator that he is a particular fan of abortion: "Three times," Gingrich said, "he stood out as uniquely, deeply committed to the killing of unborn children." Then he pours cold water on the Arab Spring. Then: "No American president should ever again bow to a Saudi king!" Newt.
3:17 PM: A prayer for Israel. "They're not occupying a piece of land," the prayer leader tells God. "They own it. Because you gave it to them."
3:18 PM: There is a Christian singer with long hair. He sings about his belief in faith and freedom. He acknowledges that people probably don't know who he is. I certainly don't know who he is.
3:32 PM: Texas Senate candidate and Tea Party fave Ted Cruz walks the stage with a handheld mic, looking comfortable. Cruz, a Hispanic former Texas solicitor general who was born in Calgary, beat a sitting lieutenant governor to win the Republican primary. He exudes future-stardom.
3:45 PM: Protesters interrupt Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. As they are escorted out, the crowd chants "U-S-A" in an aggressive tone that suggests ejecting protesters is a particularly American activity.
3:55 PM: Excellent start from Florida State Senator Will Weatherford, who is named like an Aaron Sorkin character: "I just want you to know: my name is not Scott Walker, and it's not Ted Cruz. But I did stay at the Holiday Inn Express last night." He then proceeds to sound like everyone else: "It's about saving our nation"; "The president does not believe in the American idea"; "He does not believe in the foundation, the very pillars, that this country was founded on." Had such high hopes for you, Will Weatherford.
4:02 PM: Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell offers the most enthusiastic endorsement of Romney. It's not an exceptionally enthusiastic endorsement.
4:07 PM: People join hands in prayer. God is thanked for the rally. There is an Amen. And we are done.