Republicans upbeat in a gloomy US economy

New Orleans

There are two contrasting moods here at the Republican Leadership Conference.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption For the moment the Republican policy and the pitch seem decided, if not the candidate

People attending the conference are gloomy about the state of their country but upbeat about their political hopes. One is the flip side of the other.

They believe that the poor outlook for the economy and jobs, the bitterness of many in small business, and what they see as simply too much government will make it possible to eject US President Barack Obama from the White House next year.

One man tells me a joke, which he says is doing the rounds at the conference: "Why is Obama like an atheist?"

I don't know.

"Neither of them has a prayer."

If we haven't heard much about the Tea Party recently it is because they have won, and they are writing the script.

One commentator says that Republicans have "traded in country-club aristocracy for pitchfork populism".

It is a great phrase, but I am not sure the change has much to do with class.

The people here look like the country club crowd. Many of them are in their 50s or older, and they all seem sleekly groomed and well-heeled.

But in terms of the message it is certainly true that there is no longer any room for nuance.

Speaker after speaker says the government should have no role in the economy and warns that America is piling on so much regulation that free enterprise will soon be buried.

They all attack the bail-outs of the banks and the car companies as bad policy.

For the moment the policy and the pitch seem decided. But not the candidate. And the beauty contest here has hardly begun.