Sunday, March 04, 2007

Special Report from Washington, D.C.

I'm happy to sign in from DC today, reporting from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) the largest conservative gathering in the country (in fact, Pres. Reagan addressed the conference every year from 1973-1989). Don't let the name fool you: Attendees are conservatives, neocons, moderates, libertarians, and virtually anyone who considers themselves right-of-center. Speakers included VP Dick Cheney, Sean Hannity, Ann Coulter, Sen. Arlen Specter, and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchsion.

The GOP presidential candidates were also there, each gave a speech and sponsored numerous receptions, filling the DC hotel with their supporters ready to slap a sticker on you and hand you a piece of their literature.

Every GOP candidate showed up except one...John McCain. In fact, McCain not only refused an invitation, he then went behind the backs of the organizers and tried to schedule a private reception for CPAC attendees with the hotel management. Then, at the banquet on friday night, popular conservative radio show host Laura Ingraham informed guests that McCain's spokesman said that McCain did not believe that CPAC represented the conservative movement in general and the convention was mostly comprised of DC insiders and elites (those from DC, Maryland, and Virginia). Of course, this solicited loud "boos" from the audience and McCain made a huge mistake by not attending CPAC and then downgrading its significance.
Only 15 percent of attendees this year came from MD, DC, and VA, the other 85% came from 48 other states and 3 US territories. And CPAC had record attendence this year--nearly 6300 people, and this conference is the premier event for candidates ahead of the August Iowa straw poll and the early IA and NH caucuses and primaries.

Even Giuliani spoke before a large crowd and received a lot of applause. I hate to exaggerate, but even The Washington Post realized the significance of this misstep in it's front page article "McCain rejects CPAC Invite, '08 candidate 'dissed' right." This is a huge blow to McCain's aspirations, and as these influential opinion leaders make their way back to their home states, they will influence their friends and neighbors' perceptions, and this could be the beginning of the end of McCain's presidential bid.

Romney had the most enthusiastic and energetic supporters, and you could not even get into his reception if you tried. Giuliani had a lot of applause for his speech, but Romney received more rounds of applause and numerous standing ovations (esp. when he promised to gut McCain-Feingold). The excitement and energy is unseen, and it is clear that if I had to choose, Romney and Giuliani are the favorites among CPAC attendees. Brownback, Huckabee, Tancredo, and Gilmore gave great speeches (Brownback's speech was probably the best and most enlightening of his proposals and policies out of the three) but none of the 2nd-tier candidates managed to produce enough excitement. The CPAC straw poll is an important and cited indication of early core Republican conservative support for the major candidates and it is often cited by Time and Newsweek. It will be released tomorrow, and I will post the results, but I predict that Giuliani and Romney will be the top two picks for GOP president, in that order, with Brownback 3rd or 4th and McCain coming in last due to his stupid, misguided decision and insult at the attendees.

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