Nearly 2,000 social conservative activists from 49 states gather for a Values Voters Summit in Washington Friday and Saturday, but movement favorites former Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich will not be addressing the throng.
Beauty queen Carrie Prejean - whose defense of California's referendum against gay marriage cost her the Miss USA crown earlier this year - will be a featured speaker, but a planned 2012 presidential straw poll lost a bit of luster after conservative Texas GOP Gov. Rick Perry took his name off the mock ballot for summit participants.
Mrs. Palin, who resigned as Alaska's governor in July, and Mr. Gingrich, the former Georgia congressman, are the two biggest draws for conservatives across the country.
Despite their physical absence, Mrs. Palin and Mr. Gingrich will be part of the straw poll - the first major sampling of social and religious conservatives' preferences for 2012.
"The Palins are expecting the return of eldest son Track this weekend from a yearlong deployment with an Army combat brigade in Iraq," Palin spokeswoman Meghan Stapleton told The Washington Times. "Mrs. Palin also has her first major paid speaking engagement in Hong Kong" in a few days, she added.
Mr. Gingrich, just back from a tour of Asia, had addressed the previous three Values Voters Summits, which this year is sponsored by the Family Research Council and - for the first time - the Heritage Foundation, for many years Washington's leading conservative policy institute.
"The values coalition is a very important grass-roots organization, and I look forward to speaking with them in the future as I have in the past," Mr. Gingrich told The Washington Times.
Mr. Perry, who will address the summit at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in person, asked that his name be removed from the ballot, Family Research Council spokesman J.P. Duffy confirmed. Mr. Perry, who served out George W. Bush's unfinished gubernatorial term before winning election as governor in 2002, is seeking a third elected term in 2010 but faces a tough primary challenge from a fellow Republican, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison
Summiteers will get to witness an in-person rematch of the 2007 grudge match between fellow former Republican Govs. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts and Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.
At the 2007 summit, Mr. Romney beat Mr. Huckabee by 1,595 to 1,565 in combined Internet and in-person votes, with some Huckabee partisans grumbling Mr. Romney used his immense personal wealth to generate Internet support. This year, only in-person voting will be permitted.
Also on the straw-poll ballot are Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
Conservative-movement icon Phyllis Schlafly will be honored at the summit's banquet Saturday evening. Mrs. Schlafly, founder of the Eagle Forum, led a 10-year underdog struggle that successfully stopped a proposed Equal Rights Amendment in 1982. She argued it would actually diminish women's rights and protections.
The summit speakers' lineup this weekend includes names that quicken the pulse of the politically obsessed on the center-right: Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, actor Stephen Baldwin, and congressional Republicans including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, Rep. Christopher H. Smith of New Jersey and Rep. Tom Price of Georgia.