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Santorum only GOP presidential candidate to speak at Florida Tea Party Convention

This weekend’s Florida Tea Party Convention failed to draw many of the GOP candidates invited to participate: Out of the eight GOP presidential candidates, only Rick Santorum showed up to speak.

Convention organizers invited a slew of speakers to talk about tea party-favored topics, such as Agenda 21 and the supposed “radicalization of Islam” in the U.S., and had scheduled a discussion among GOP presidential candidates. However, only one candidate showed up.

According to the Huffington Post:

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich all called in and were patched into the venue’s speakers. Portraits of the candidates who called in were splashed on a large screen while they answered questions.

During his question-and-answer session, Santorum made light of his opponents’ absence.

“Since I’m the only one that’s going to be here, I’ll fill up the glass of water so no one else has to take it,” he said in reference to a glass and pitcher laid out only for him. The line elicited laughter and applause from the audience. “You’re welcome,” a happy Santorum said in response.

In a swipe at candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, who neither telephoned in nor appeared in person, cardboard cutouts of the two men were placed on stage and asked questions by the town hall’s moderator.

Ron Paul and Rick Perry did not address the convention in person, over the phone, or in cardboard form.

There was also a low turnout among GOP U.S. Senate candidates, who earlier in the year all made it to a conservative town hall hosted by the Florida Family Policy Council and others.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal reports that Deon Long, Mike McCalister, Ron McNeil, Craig Miller and Marielena Stuart all showed up to speak at the convention. Adam Hasner, Connie Mack and George LeMieux were no-shows.

Other big Florida conservative names were also absent from the convention. Both Gov. Rick Scott and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., declined invitations to the event.

Among the right-wing speakers invited to address the crowd were former Christian Coalition director Ralph Reed, anti-Islam blogger Pam Geller and G. Edward Griffin. Griffin is an anti-Federal Reserve, anti-United Nations and anti-communist conspiracy theorist who describes himself as a “life member” of the John Birch Society — a historically infamous anti-communist group. Geller is best known for her blog Atlas Shrugs, which has been described by The New York Times as a “site that attacks Islam with a rhetoric venomous enough that PayPal at one point branded it a hate site.”

The attendance of Geller, and other anti-Islam activists, caught the attention of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-FL), which said the event would “feature a presentation by anti-Islam extremist Pamela Geller and another Islamophobe.” Bill Warner, CAIR said in a statement, was another featured “anti-Islam activist.” This eventually resulted in a feud between members of CAIR and tea party organizers.

Some are saying the retreat of big names was due the inclusion of speakers such as Geller. On her blog this weekend, Geller claimed that such claims were an example of the media “taking their talking points and their cues from the Muslim Brotherhood, pimping their anti-American hate and spinning it into ‘news reportage.’”

Geller did, though, criticize the GOP candidates who did not show up to the event.

She wrote:

I told the convention, “You dance with the one what brung ya,” and that applies to a lot of the politicians who were absent yesterday: the Tea Party elected them, and if they had any sense of honor, any sense of gratitude to the ones who elected them, they should have been there. Those politicians have the Tea Party to thank for their offices.

The convention was sponsored by Freedom Works, the Heritage Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, Craig Miller’s U.S. Senate Campaign and the Oath Keepers.

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