The establishment and the insurgent “tea party” conservatives came together for the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, DC, this week. By all estimates, attendance this year will break ever CPAC record in history. I wonder what the difference is?
Although the formal program was dominated by traditional, long-term conservative leaders and elected officials, considerable attention was paid to new “tea party” activists, including CPAC’s most prestigious award. The Ronald Reagan Award is bestowed each year, not to a general, but to a foot soldier in the battle for limited government and individual freedom.
This year, the Board of Directors of the American Conservative Union, CPAC’s main sponsor and organizer, voted to extend the award collectively to everyone in America who showed up for a tea party rally or town hall meeting to express their displeasure with the direction the Obama administration is taking us. Hear, hear!
Oh, and by the way, NOT ONE self-described tea party activist or leader that I’ve spoken with here at CPAC supports the dumbass move by a handful of unknowns to create a third party Tea Party in Nevada. Not one. And while hosting the second national Tea Party convention in Las Vegas this August will help the local economy, it will do even more to help Harry Reid’s re-election chances. Brilliant strategery, folks.
Anyway, CPAC kicked off this year’s program on Thursday with the hottest rising star in the conservative movement in the country today, Marco Rubio, who’s challenging Obama-hugger Gov. Charlie Crist for the GOP nomination for the United States Senate in Florida.
And that was followed up by an unexpected appearance of former Vice President Dick Cheney, a longtime favorite at CPAC who has lost none of his popularity with the conservative crowd in retirement.
And then U.S. Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts fame made a surprise visit to introduce former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Talk about a rock-star reception! And Romney was great, too. The 2012 GOP nomination race is in full swing.
Our friend, Lt. Col. Allen West (retired), a congressional candidate in Florida, will be speaking today just before Glen Beck wraps up the conference. Col. West ran in 2008 for the first time and still managed to pull in 45 percent of the vote in a Democrat year in a Democrat leaning district with comparatively little money.
Ah, what a difference a year makes. During a briefing by a representative of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) this week, we were told that Col. West has been tapped as one of the GOP’s Top 10 “young guns,” noting that he’s reached and wildly exceeded every benchmark for organization and fundraising the committee has set for its targeted candidates this year.
If you haven’t yet seen his speech at a recent tea party event on YouTube, suffice it to say San Fran Nan-cy Pelosi is in for a world of hurt if Col. West becomes Congressman West next November.
And speaking of lieutenant colonels, at a private reception for Lt. Col. West last night, I also met retired Lt. Col. Bill Russell, who has challenged now-deceased Rep. Jack Murtha (D-Pa.) in the last two election cycles. Col. Russell has built up a considerable warchest from the national support he’s received for opposing the man who slimed the Haditha Marines a couple years back.
In short, Col. Russell has paid his dues – literally on the field of battle in our nation’s defense, and politically in two general election campaigns against the late congressman. And he’s already on the primary election ballot scheduled for May 18th. However, with Murtha’s passing, there will simultaneously be a special election to fill Murtha’s seat until a permanent replacement is elected in November.
Because this is a special election, the Republican Party gets to name the candidate who will appear on the special election ballot. Now, you would think the party would automatically tap a proven vote-getter and fundraiser who’s already in the race to be its nominee in the special election, right? Of course you would.
But you’re not the party that consistently fails to blow an opportunity to blow an opportunity. The GOP is actually considering naming another candidate for its special election nominee, a la New York 23. Hello, McFly!
Meanwhile, although he’s not here at CPAC this week, another battle-tested warrior has thrown his hat into the congressional ring in North Carolina. Marine 2nd Lieutenant Ilario Pantano is a veteran of the Battle of Fallujah in Iraq. If you don’t know his story, look him up on Wikipedia – or better yet, buy his book, “Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.”
Here’s the Reader’s Digest version: Pantano grew up in Hell’s Kitchen and joined the Marines. Upon discharge, he became a very successful Wall Street trader. That is, until 9/11. At which point, Pantano rejoined the Marines and eventually went to Iraq.
Subsequent to actions taken during Operation Vigilant Resolve in April 2004, Lt. Pantano was brought up on murder charges for….get this….killing the enemy. A military tribunal eventually cleared Pantano of the murder charges, but his Marine career was over.
(Side Note: Both Lt. Pantano and Col. West have tentatively agreed come out to Vegas in April for an event with us. Stay tuned for details.)
Conventional wisdom says that Rep. Mike Castle, a moderate Delaware Republican, is the shoe-in nominee for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination. Not so fast. Christine O’Donnell is here at CPAC and lays out a pretty good case for how she can win the Republican primary. When I asked if a conservative can win a statewide race in Delaware, Christine responded with two words: Pete DuPont. ‘Nuff said.
And speaking of U.S. Senate races, Sen. John McCain-Feingold is not here at CPAC this year, but his Arizona Republican primary opponent, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth is making the rounds and ginning up lots of rank-and-file support. J.D. says small-donor checks from around the country are starting to flow into his campaign even as the Republican establishment is circling the wagons in an effort to save McCain-Feingold’s bacon.
George Will gave a great keynote speech at Thursday night’s dinner. On the other hand, former Rep. J.C. Watts spoke way too long and ended his keynote address last night with a story about a group of people in a farming community who joined hands and walked through a field searching for a lost child only to find him dead. Not exactly an uplifting story to end dinner with.
And finally in CPAC news, a major brouhaha erupted a couple months back about a gay Republican group, GOProud, being “allowed” to be an exhibitor at this year’s CPAC. Some religious groups threatened to boycott the conference; a threat that turned out to be empty. But the ironic thing is that GOProud’s booth ended up right next to a defend marriage organization’s booth. Funny.