WASHINGTON- A few notes from the annual gathering of conservatives (which includes many college students) in the Beltway.
Mitt Wins (Buys?) Straw Poll- Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has once again won the CPAC straw poll, after losing the last two to Texas US Representative Ron Paul. Romney had prevailed in the 2007, 2008 and 2009 CPAC straw polls, emerging on top in 2008 despite ending his presidential bid at that event.
Former US Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania has alleged that Romney's team had "bought" the win by purchasing registrations for attendees committed to vote for their candidate. Such a tactic is not unheard of as Paul has been known to "invest" in these non official contests. Romney blatantly engaged in "straw poll herding" at the 2010 Southern Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans.
Romney received 38% to Santorum's 31%. Though not a victory, Santorum's second place showing marked a vast improvement from his 2011 tenth place finish with 2%.
Former US House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia placed a distant third with 15% and Paul in fourth with 12%, a sign of Paul's decision to spend his money in Maine and not CPAC.
Newt's "Soprano" Picture- During Gingrich's address at CPAC, a striking black-and-white image of him flanked by the members of his self-titled "Dream Team" of high profile supporters was shown as a backdrop. The visual, which resembled a Sopranos DVD set cover, was produced by his campaign and distributed in handbill version at his campaign booth.
The Ex-Speaker's Speaker Line-Up- In another creative flyer distribution, the Gingrich camp handed out "CPAC Daily Schedules" to attendees though a closer inspection revealed some commentary. While the flyer's header had the CPAC logo, so as to make it appear official, and the times of the speeches were accurate, some jabs were snuck in on Gingrich's rivals and one commentator.
For example, next to Santorum's name were the words "in defense of big labor" while next to Romney's name appeared the words "author of Obamney Care". Pundit and latter-day Romney supporter Ann Coulter also caught some heat, as "Three Cheers for RomeyCare" was listed by he speaking slot. The bottom of the flyer cited that it was paid for by Gingrich's campaign.
The CPAC Ground Game- - Both Gingrich and Santorum had booths at the conference though Romney and Paul passed on setting up a table, a little odd considering the money they have spent on CPAC in the past. Santorum had an impressive demonstration of support as there were hundreds of attendees, surprisingly mainly young people, sporting lapel stickers and a few wearing Santorum's trademark water vests (which ere for sale at a discount at his campaign table).
Romney had a significantly smaller visible presence though apparently enough quiet backing to win the straw poll.
Battleground Wisconsin- Though not as high profile as former Alaska governor Sarah Palin's close out address, embattled Wisconsin governor Scott Walker was given an opportunity to pitch for help from conservatives at the Friday night banquet speaker. Focusing his remarks exclusively on his state, Walker argued that the Let's attempt to remove him from office is more than simply "Wisconsin issue" and that the result will either embolden Big Labor or Republican state executives dealing with union related legislation. If Walker survives the recall and then reelection in 2014, you can expect the leading nemesis of the unions to be part of the 2016 or 2020 conversation.