Breaking the attendance record set just last year, more than 6,300 conservatives gathered for the 34th annual Conservative Political Action Conference March 1-3 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Northwest Washington, D.C.
Sponsored as usual by the American Conservative Union, in partnership with HUMAN EVENTS and Young America’s Foundation, CPAC 2007 featured 113 co-sponsors and exhibitors.
While a variety of knowledgeable panelists discussed subjects ranging from Islamic extremism and war heroes to judicial nominees and illegal immigration, the highlight of the three-day conference for most participants was listening to speeches from Republican 2008 presidential hopefuls. All serious contenders for the Republican nomination next year—with the exception of Arizona Sen. John McCain, who had made headlines by snubbing the annual conservative grassroots event—addressed the crowd. California Rep. Duncan Hunter, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo, Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore lined up one by one to try to persuade the crowd that they deserved the nomination. Flashing conservative credentials where possible (some had notably fewer than others), many of the candidates leaned on President Ronald Reagan for applause lines and talking points.
The Reagan quote that got the most attention in Giuliani’s speech was the one that emphasized his differences with the conservative base. He said, “My 80% ally is not my 20% enemy.”
While his differences with the Republican Party concern mainly abortion and gay marriage, the former mayor didn’t talk about either of these issues specifically.
Romney took a page from Reagan’s CPAC 1977 speech in which the Gipper called for “a new lasting majority” and said the time had come once again for a conservative coalition to step up to the plate.
“Thirty years ago, in challenging times, a great coalition was forged in these halls. Today, we face a new generation of challenges,” he said. “If we in this room lock our arms together, we can forge the political will to rebuild our military might. If we in this room will simply march forward, we can propel America’s growth and prosperity to lead to the world. If we in this room lift up our eyes, we will lift the spirit of the nation.”
Both Giuliani and Romney spoke to a packed house, so full that many in line eager hear them speak were turned away. Lesser- known candidates such as Hunter and Gilmore made extra time to mingle with the crowds and discuss their views on the issues.
Supporters of the candidates—mainly college students—lined the halls throughout the conference. Those most visibly organized voiced support for either Brownback or Romney—toting signs, passing out fliers and wearing T-shirts endorsing their pick for President. (In counter protest, a costumed dolphin named “Flip Romney” roamed the convention to criticize Romney’s “flip-flopping on social issues.”)
While a sense of optimism and energy reverberated through the halls of the hotel among the 3,200-plus college students in attendance, several state party chairmen and grassroots activist leaders expressed their dissatisfaction with the current field to HUMAN EVENTS Political Editor John Gizzi. Eric Johnston, a longtime Alabama family issues leader, told Gizzi he was waiting to “see what comes out of CPAC. A lot of candidates claim to be a conservative, but I’m not sure they are.”
Other big names that wowed the crowd included White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, Human Events Legal Correspondent Ann Coulter, National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre, Vice President Dick Cheney, former UN Ambassador John Bolton, Republican Representatives Mike Pence (Ind.), Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) and James Sensenbrenner (Wis.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.), Republican Senators Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Jim Inhofe (Okla.) and conservative TV and radio personality Sean Hannity—just to name a few.
Coulter’s appearance created quite a media stir when, during her presentation, she used the word “faggot” in answering a question from the audience about former North Carolina Democratic Sen. John Edwards, who is seeking the Democratic nomination. Coulter said, “It turns out you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I’m kind of at an impasse—I can’t really talk about Edwards.” Liberal commentators were apoplectic over the remark, and many conservative bloggers sharply criticized Coulter. Robert Bluey, HUMAN EVENTS contributing editor and director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at the Heritage Foundation, offered sane commentary on his blog, RobertBluey.com:
“During her afternoon speech, Coulter delivered a zinger at John Edwards. Just as she outraged bloggers last year with remarks about Muslims, Coulter managed to top that performance by using the word ‘faggot’ in the same sentence as John Edwards. Left, right or center, bloggers have spewed endless rants about evil Ann. Several bloggers have suggested Ann be dropped from the CPAC program in the future. I’m sorry, my friends, you may hate Ann, but she says these things for a reason: She’s trying to provoke a reaction.
“That’s why she’s the real winner at the end of the day. Her popularity soars after every CPAC—because bloggers, commentators and politicians denounce her. That’s just who she is and what she does. Get used to it. She’s not going away.”
Both HUMAN EVENTS and RedState.com participated on the “Bloggers Corner” this year, which was hosted by CRC Public Relations. Bloggers from across the country were able to network and coordinate efforts while providing live coverage of CPAC events to readers around the globe. You can read all of the HUMAN EVENTS CPAC coverage at HumanEvents.com.
The 35th annual CPAC is scheduled again for the Omni Shoreham Hotel February 7-9, 2008. Early online for registration for CPAC 2008 will be available soon at www.cpac.org, and for those who register by November 16, there’s an early-bird discount.