FORT WORTH, Texas — This week was supposed to be about unifying Texas Republicans, getting everyone on the same page with the common goal of booting Democrats from office -- starting with President Barack Obama -- in November.
But it was clear from the reaction of delegates at the beginning of the state GOP convention that while they're willing to unite against Democrats, true harmony remains elusive.
The first to see that Thursday was Gov. Rick Perry, who received a standing ovation and thunderous applause but also boisterous boos at times.
"If America is to be America again, if we are to get off the mat and on our feet again, if we are to reclaim our birthright of freedom again, we need a president who believes in us again," Perry said to kick off the three-day gathering at the Fort Worth Convention Center.
During his keynote address, Perry touted Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst as an ideal "strong conservative Texan" who should be elected to the U.S. Senate -- and was booed by countless delegates who support Dewhurst's opponent, former Solicitor General Ted Cruz. Dewhurst will face Cruz in a primary runoff July 31 for the seat that Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison will leave next year.
The loud and lingering boos -- which also sounded like Cruz -- drowned out part of Perry's speech.
But Perry later brushed it off.
"Boo?" he asked. "I thought they were saying 'Dew.'"
Also preaching unity was U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, the maverick presidential candidate who draws passionate support from Republicans seeking to buck the establishment.
But Perry led the way, encouraging delegates to support presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who is not attending the convention.
"Three and a half years and nearly 100 rounds of golf into his presidency, Barack Obama has exploded the federal debt; passed a failed, budget-busting stimulus package; socialized healthcare; and provided guns to Mexican drug cartels," he said.
"Admit it, America: 2008 was our national 'oops' moment," Perry said, referring to his gaffe during a presidential debate in November.
The convention continues today and is expected to include speeches by Dewhurst, Hutchison and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn. Former presidential candidate Rick Santorum will be among the featured speakers at one of the convention's highlights -- the private gala banquet fundraiser, which is open to the news media this year.
Perry and Abbott
Estimates of delegates ranged from 3,500 in the morning to potentially 8,000 by afternoon, party officials said, adding that the crowd continues to grow. They expect it to reach 10,000 to 12,000 by Saturday.
Perry told delegates that Tarrant County is an ideal site for the convention because it is "where the conservative cause is the strongest and the voice of the Tea Party is the loudest."
This was the first time Perry has addressed so many Texans since withdrawing from the presidential race in January. He talked briefly about his presidential bid, referring to his time as a front-runner last year as "the most exhilarating three hours of my life" and noting that "$20 million may not earn you any delegates, but it will give you a great tour of the country."
He criticized Obama's campaign slogan -- "Forward."
"I have a different slogan for him: 'Do Over' -- because that's what he is asking for in 2012," Perry said. "But America cannot afford and deserves more than a do-over election. The stakes are high because the differences are great. Our fight is not just a difference of opinion, it is a parting of worldviews."
Perry drew cheers and applause when talking about how Texas Republican leaders work on efforts that begin in communities -- from creating a voter identification law and the Defense of Marriage Act to working to defund Planned Parenthood.
"Your work is not done and neither is mine," he told the crowd. "For me, continuing to serve as your governor is the honor of a lifetime."
Perry said his political career is not over.
"I'm not riding off into the sunset," he said. "I'm mounting up for the next operation."
He revved up the crowd by saying he's tired "of a federal government at war with the states, with bureaucrats and czars who discard the 10th Amendment and disdain the Second Amendment."
Perry and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott both mentioned U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, criticizing him for challenging Texas' new voter ID law. Democrats allege that the law is geared toward discriminating against minorities.
"I've pursued voter fraud across the state of Texas, and let me tell you, it's real," Abbott said. "It must be stopped."
He also said Obama's decision to go after Osama bin Laden was "an order that any president would have given."
"It was the Navy SEALs who took out Osama bin Laden."
Paul, R-Lake Jackson, took the arena's stage in the afternoon, addressing a crowd of some 2,000 about topics including party unity and efforts to balance the federal budget.
"Uniting [the party] is very important," he said. "But you have to ask: What are you going to unite around?
"If you unite behind the things that cost money, what good is that? We have to unite on the right principles."
Paul's comments came one day after he sent an e-mail to supporters, encouraging them to continue their fight and to send as many as 500 like-minded delegates to the national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August.
"While this total is not enough to win the nomination, it puts us in a tremendous position to grow our movement and shape the future of the GOP," he wrote. "We have never had this kind of opportunity. ... Our delegates' presence must be felt both in Tampa and in years to come.
"Stand up for what we believe in. Be respectful. And let the establishment know that we are the future of the Party and of the country," he wrote. "Our Revolution is just getting started."
If there is any confusion, Paul said Thursday, Republicans should unite behind one common denominator: the Constitution.
"Our freedom movement might not be winning all the battles, but we are going to win the war," he told the crowd, which repeatedly gave him standing ovations and chanted "President Paul." "Freedom is freedom. It comes from the fact you are an individual. You get your life and liberty from your Creator, and your government should protect it and never take it away from you."