President Barack Obama’s plan to drive up deficits in the middle of a recession is galvanizing the nearly 9,000 activists meeting this week at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC).

While we “want our country to succeed, no matter who’s in power,” Obama’s plans for economic recovery will spend America into “catastrophe,” former presidential nominee Mitt Romney told a cheering packed ballroom at Washington’s Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Introduced as a “member of the family” by Dave Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs CPAC, Romney said, “For the last several years, we’ve heard liberals moaning about the $700 billion that have been spent over six years to win freedom in Iraq. They have now spent more than that in 30 days. And,” he said, “with a government almost $12 trillion in debt, any unnecessary spending puts at risk the creditworthiness of the United States. If the world loses confidence in our currency, that could cause a run on the dollar, or hyperinflation, that would wipe out savings and devastate the middle class.”

Romney objected to Obama’s statement on an Arabic TV network that in the past, America has dictated to the world. “We are the country that has freed millions of people from the tyranny of dictators,” he said.

“To those who question the character of our country, including the new attorney general, let us remind them that America has never been, is not now, and will never be a nation of cowards,” the former Massachusetts governor said, referring to a remark by Eric Holder.

At this, shouts of “USA! USA” erupted from the nearly 4,000 people packed into the hotel’s Regency Ballroom, as attendees who couldn’t squeeze in watched on monitors throughout the hotel.

Besides the speeches, the heart of CPAC is its trade show, but the people behind the booths aren’t shilling cars, computers, or farm implements-they are hawking ideas. Red, white, and blue curtains divide the low-ceilinged exhibit space. There’s Radio Row, where dozens of correspondents lean into their microphones. It’s an atmosphere of stand behind the rope, please, we’re talking to America.

There’s Bloggers’ Row, with its denizens hunched over laptops. And something that might be called Money-Raising Row, where the think tanks and conservative interest groups sit. Two of the booths are devoted to drafting Sarah Palin for president.

More than half the attendees are under 30. Young men in suits carry Blackberries and sport an occasional small hoop earring or single eyebrow piercing, conservatively done. The women wear skirts and high heels. Two women wear tiaras and stickers that say “Preserve Traditional Marriage.” “Write In Reagan” is a popular campaign button.

A cacophony of concepts come from the booths: “Control of regulation.” “In a perfect world.” “What Al Gore doesn’t want to see.” “Sign the Petition! No more bailouts!”

The Poker Players’ Alliance booth is next to the Hispanic Leadership Fund. Joe the Plumber, pushing his book, sits across from Muslims for America.

Book signings by Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, and Ralph Reed attract long lines. Booths offer eye-catching lollipops, Snickers, brownies, and carryalls, of which the National Rifle Association’s yellow bag is the biggest.

In workshops and panel discussions, you hear that people now spend more time on the internet than watching television. Eric Singer hawks his Congressional Effect Fund, which has been successfully outperforming the market by not investing when Congress is in session.

“I love the CPAC job fair,” says Donna Wiesner Keene, a conservative activist and the wife of ACU Chairman Keene. “They get a chance to meet with employers who actually want the conservatives.”

Standing nearby, Dave Keene notes that at this CPAC, “Speakers don’t have to worry about offending the powers that be, because the powers that be are either gone or discredited.”

“I sense there’s a lot more energy, more commitment, to being the loyal opposition, so to speak, than there has been in years past, because of Obama,” says Bob Heckman, who was John McCain’s conservative outreach director. “The one great thing Obama’s done for us is that he’s made it clear what the subject of the 2010 elections will be-his stimulus package and his desire to rework the role of government.”

Says Heckman, “We’re going to have a big fight in 2010 over the direction of this country, and that’s good.”