ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Longshot Republican presidential candidates Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee were well received by a socially conservative group who applauded their anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage and pro-faith messages Saturday night.
Neither candidate mentioned topics like the Iraq war, taxes and health care during speeches in front of a Florida Family Policy Council dinner, instead sticking with a strong message on values. They received rave reviews from attendees, including Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who also serves as the Republican National Committee general chairman.
"I am completely blown away by the two men we heard tonight," Martinez told the crowd of about 650 at the event.
The crowd, some of whom are looking for an alternative to major candidates like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Arizona Sen. John McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, also seemed impressed.
"The top tier, in my estimation, does not fit the definition of what a true conservative has historically been in this country," said Roy Tanner, 50, of Orlando. "If it is meant to be, these guys will break out of the pack. I'd be happy if either got elected."
Both candidates urged the group to keep working on their efforts to put a gay marriage ban in the state's constitution. The Florida Family Policy Council is leading a petition drive to place a proposed amendment on the 2008 ballot.
"You need to redefine the definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman. It's critical," Brownback, a Kansas senator, said to loud applause. "We've got to be the rebuild the family. I'm going to be the president that's the family president that helps rebuild this fundamental institution."
Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and former Baptist pastor, touted his voluntary covenant-marriage law he pushed for that makes divorce harder to obtain.