By Craig Robinson
Later this week, conservative activists and Republican officials from around the country will converge in Washington D.C. for the 39th Annual CPAC Conference. The American Conservative Union, which is responsible for organizing the event, states that the aim of the conference is to “rally conservatives, share strategies and promulgate and crystallize the best of the conservative thought in America.”
For the most part CPAC does a pretty good job of fulfilling its mission, but for this political observer, the conference is more of a scouting trip for the next presidential election. The 2016 Iowa Caucuses are still a long ways away, 2 years – 9 months, 23 days to be exact – but that doesn’t mean potential candidates are not positioning themselves for a potential 2016 campaign.
Sometimes it’s easy to spot potential candidates positioning themselves. Last week’s filibuster by Kentucky Senator Rand Paul is an example of obvious positioning. His trip to Israel with party leaders from Iowa, South Carolina, and New Hampshire in tow was also anything but subtle. Other potential candidates play their cards closer to the vest, but often times they show up at an event like CPAC to preach to the party faithful.
A former candidate who fits that description is Texas Governor Rick Perry, who was included on my initial list of potential 2012 candidates way back in February of 2010. At the time, Perry dismissed anyone who suggested that he may be looking at running for president in 2012. Perry had a primary challenge in 2010, but even after winning re-election that fall, it still took him until August of 2011 to get in the race. The ability to see potential presidential candidates speak in person long before the race begins is invaluable as someone who analyzes presidential politics in Iowa.
As I prepare to head out for another installment of CPAC, here is what’s on my radar screen.
1. What is the mood of conservatives/Republicans? The 2009 CPAC conference was probably one of the best I’ve been to. Heading into the conference, Republicans were still licking their wounds. Coming out of the conference, they were fired up and ready for battle thanks in large part to an exhilarating keynote speech by Rush Limbaugh.
2. Is there evidence that Sen. Rand Paul can grow his following beyond that of his father’s political efforts? No Republican office holder is as in demand as Senator Paul is right now following his filibuster. Can the excitement built from that event be used to grow his following and make him a legitimate contender for the Republican nomination in 2016?
3. What kind of reception will Rick Santorum receive? Santorum surprised everyone when he became the only thing between Mitt Romney and the Republican nomination in 2012. Without currently holding elected office and with his 2012 campaign now just a memory, Santorum needs to remain relevant in Republican circles if he we wants to begin a 2016 campaign where he left off in 2012.
4. Are conservatives ready for another Bush? Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush will address a CPAC dinner crowd at the conference. Dinner crowds are typically more friendly and respectful than the conference audience. Still, Jeb Bush is making plenty of noise lately, and it will be interesting to see how people feel about another Bush making a run for president.
5. Is Sen. Marco Rubio still the up and coming superstar in the Republican Party? Of course Rubio is still incredibly popular among Republicans, but has he been surpassed by his more aggressive colleagues like Sen. Rand Paul or Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas?
6. Who is the dark horse 2016 candidate that could emerge? This is perhaps my favorite thing to look for at CPAC. Watching the headliners is always great, but I love watching those who might be considered long shots by the media speak at this event because they are typically the ones that do well in Iowa. Do the names Huckabee and Santorum ring a bell?
blog comments powered by Disqus