OREM — Standing center stage, Sean Hannity, clad in a crisply tailored suit, captivated a sold-out crowd with a fiery speech lauding Utah's conservative folks — and denouncing those of a liberal ilk, such as "Fahrenheit 9/11" director Michael Moore.
Hannity, the talk-show host who waived a $100,000 speaking fee in order to counter views Moore is expected to dispense at an Oct. 20 speech, said during his visit Monday that Utah students aren't "slackers" — a reference to Moore's "Slacker Uprising Tour," the filmmaker's effort to visit many college campuses before the November elections.
And he doesn't think they need Moore to tell them who to vote for.
"It's not Michael Moore that I'm worried about," Hannity told the Deseret Morning News before going on stage. "I'm worried about John Kerry getting elected president."
But attending Moore's speech next Wednesday doesn't make students bad, Hannity told an audience eager to boo the Oscar winner.
In fact, he told a handful of "liberal" audience members — who Hannity asked to stand up and identify themselves — that liberalism wasn't always bad but that "modern liberalism has abandoned its tradition."
And Moore is as liberal as they come, he said.
"Michael Moore isn't worth one red cent of student funds, by the way," Hannity said referring to the $40,000 of student fees that will be used to pay Moore. "I would demand your money back."
More than 7,500 people, including 3,800 UVSC students and staff, packed the McKay Events Center to hear Hannity give his take on the Bush vs. Kerry election and the Moore controversy, which has divided the Utah Valley community and prompted debate among students.
Hannity encouraged students to vote for the president and questioned the qualifications of Kerry, the Democratic challenger.
"In these troubling times, we cannot elect someone who waffles, who vacillates, who has no core," Hannity said. "John Kerry is on the wrong side of history."
Based on applause, Hannity's political point of view — and humorous imitations of Kerry, Bill Clinton and Ted Kennedy — curried favor with the audience. "I need to move to Utah," Hannity said to the loud cheers and rounds of clapping. "I belong here."
Hannity came to UVSC only after controversy about Moore's appearance erupted. After publicly challenging Moore to debate at the Orem campus — UVSC nixed the idea so students could hear each side separately — Hannity agreed to waive his speaking fee to speak solo, as long as UVSC covered his travel expenses, including a private jet.
GOP gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman Jr., who Hannity plugged during his speech, covered $10,000 of those costs.
UVSC did not have a final tally of Hannity's expenses Monday.
But any dime spent on Hannity was well spent for 83-year-old Milly Pines. "He's the voice of reason in this whole thing," she said. "I don't know why (UVSC) didn't pay him and give Michael Moore the boot before he could influence young students."
But Hannity told the Deseret Morning News he didn't come to UVSC to sway student voters but to provide an opposing point of view before the Nov. 2 general election.
"(UVSC officials) told me they are going to make a profit off this thing," Hannity said. "I don't care if it's $5, though I hope it's much, much more."
As for that debate with Moore, Hannity isn't backing down.
He said he'll come back to UVSC for free if Moore will agree to put his speaking fee on the table and let students decide who gets to donate the money to a favorite charity.
"He is a gutless coward for not showing up tonight," he said.
During a question-and-answer period, Hannity was asked by an LDS member of the audience, "When are you going to take the missionary discussions?"
"I'm going to tell you one thing," Hannity replied. "It's going to sound like it's pandering and I'm going to tell you this. This is a very special place here. There is a certain blessed innocence that I see every time I come to Utah. I'm non-denominational in the sense that I'm a Christian; I was raised Catholic. The people in my life that I have the most in common with are the people who put God and faith and country above all else." he said.
"It is noticeably different when I come to Utah in a positive way. You've held on to an innocence that I think the rest of the country, sadly, has lost. Frankly, it's refreshing to come here."