The 'Conservative Woodstock' Kicks Off
What to watch for at CPAC
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2015 11:58 AM CST
Ben Carson speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015.   (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

(Newser) – The Conservative Political Action Conference—which Politico calls "the conservative Woodstock" and the Christian Science Monitor calls "the Super Bowl of conservative activism"—is currently under way in National Harbor, Md. What to watch for during the 41st annual CPAC—this one, Politico notes, is "the most important one in the four-year presidential election cycle."

  • Rand Paul speaks tomorrow, and in previewing his remarks to Politico, he jabbed fellow presumed 2016 presidential contender Jeb Bush. "A lot of kids are concerned with privacy, and the fact that he’s come out to be a big advocate for the surveillance state and the dragnet, collecting all the phone records—if he’s smart, he won’t probably bring that up at CPAC," says Paul, who also pointed out the "hypocrisy" of Bush wanting to incarcerate people for using medical marijuana even though he's "basically [acknowledged] ... using recreational marijuana as a kid." Politico notes Paul has won the last two CPAC straw polls.

  • Bush also appears tomorrow, and given how important it is that he win over the party's conservative wing, the Monitor calls his Q&A session with Sean Hannity possibly "the most consequential event" of the conference. Says a Republican strategist, "He is trying to overcome the talk radio meme that he’s a squishy RINO (Republican In Name Only) who won’t fight." Politico notes that he "bombed" at CPAC two years ago, and skipped it entirely last year, but typically performs better in conversational settings than speeches.
  • Bush's entire slot will be Q&A, as will Marco Rubio's, but every presidential potential will be required to take at least six minutes of questions—which could mean some ad-libbed gaffes or at least unscripted revelations.
  • But the Monitor calls Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who speaks today, "the 'it' man" of the field of potential 2016 presidential contenders. He's leading the polls in Iowa—and he's even leading Texas Gov. Rick Perry in Texas, 20% to 8%. (In second place in Texas: Ted Cruz with 19%.) At CPAC, Walker needs to "meet expectations and wow the Republican base."
  • Last year, Cruz had a "lousy" 9am Thursday speaking slot and ended up with about a third of the straw-poll votes Paul got. This year, Cruz speaks at the much better time of 1:40pm tomorrow, so he should see his poll showing improved—if not, it means activists "don't yet see him as presidential," Politico notes.
  • Also speaking: Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, Sarah Palin, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina (today), Perry, Mike Pence, and Donald Trump (tomorrow). "Virtually every potential Republican candidate will make their case," CNN reports. Skipping CPAC: Mike Huckabee, John Boehner, and Mitch McConnell.
  • A potentially hot issue: gay rights. The pro-gay marriage Log Cabin Republicans group was issued an 11th-hour invitation to participate in one panel ("Putin's Russia: A New Cold War?") but not, notably, "The Future of Marriage in America" panel. "I want to make it really clear: Gay conservatives should feel comfortable to come to CPAC," the chairman of the group that runs CPAC tells USA Today.