Ronald Kessler Reporting from Washington, D.C. —
Registration for this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is running 10 percent ahead of last year, breaking records, Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which runs the event, tells Newsmax.
Last year, 10,000 people registered for CPAC. This year, 11,000 people are expected to sign up by the time the three-day conference opens on Thursday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.
In addition, 700 members of the press have registered for credentials.
“The purpose is to bring together conservatives from all walks of life, from all of our states, and to gather and hear about conservative thought,” Cardenas says. “Hopefully, to be provoked into action. We believe that this convention is going to be the kickoff to the 2012 election.”
The first CPAC was held in 1973 with about 125 people attending. Ronald Reagan was the speaker.
When CPAC was held in 2009, so-called conservative columnists like David Frum, formerly of National Review, and David Brooks of The New York Times were predicting the end of conservatism, saying that something was wrong with their beliefs.
Today, CPAC is one of the highlights of the political season, with wall-to-wall media coverage. Polls show that 40 percent of Americans consider themselves conservatives, compared with 20 percent who say they are liberals.
The CPAC theme this year is, “We Still Hold These Truths.”
“It’s about our constitutional principles and the guiding values of American exceptionalism and a reminder to all Americans that once we deviate from this path that our founding fathers laid down for us, our country will not do well,” Cardenas says. “Our country as of late has gotten off of the beaten path, and we need to get right again.”
Cardenas notes that every GOP presidential candidate except Ron Paul is scheduled to speak.
“The amazing thing is that more than half of the registrants so far are under 25 years of age,” Cardenas says.
“It will be an exciting gathering of Americans from every demographic group — college students, blue collar workers, teachers, housewives — who have one thing in common: that’s our passion for our country and for our conservative values,” Cardenas adds.
Besides the presidential candidates, speakers will include Sen. Jim DeMint, Sen. Marco Rubio, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Rand Paul, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. John Cornyn, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Rep. Michele Bachmann, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Rep. Allen West, Gov. Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, and former CEO Herman Cain.
“Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are going to have to make a case to a very conservative, knowledgeable group,” Cardenas says. “This is your ultimate focus group of 11,000 people, all of whom are passionate, all of whom are knowledgeable, and all of whom are there to listen very carefully to what they have to say.”
Last year, Donald Trump showed up at the last minute and wowed the audience. So far, Cardenas says he has not heard whether he might ask to speak.
In a reminder of the movement President Obama has endorsed, representatives of the Occupy DC protest group have said they plan to disrupt CPAC by pulling fire alarms in the hotel, screaming “fire” during conference activities, cutting electrical power, barricading entrances to the hotel, and verbally abusing or possibly assaulting speakers.
The “spectacle” that is CPAC will include discussions on “imperialist topics” as well as “racist discourse,” Occupy Wall Street said on its website. The demonstrators said their ultimate mission will be to “occupy” CPAC and “create as much non-violent resistance as possible, and make this a conference the attendees will never forget.”
Given the clear divergence in political philosophies between Democrats and Republicans, Cardenas says the 2012 election will be the most heated in recent memory.
“Many of us feel like we’re almost at the point of no return, and if we have four more years of walking down that path with President Obama, it may be that America may be irretrievable, gone as we know it,” Cardenas says. “So there is a sense of desperation, a sense of commitment to get our country back on track.”
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. Read more reports from Ronald Kessler — Click Here Now.
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