- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 13, 2011

ANALYSIS:

The political right is a stronger, more enthusiastic and more formidable force than ever, judging from remarks heard in the record-setting audience of 11,000 at the three-day Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, which ended Saturday.

In years past, that same typically self-critical audience has bemoaned the lack of worthy congressional and presidential candidates who could go on to resist the siren call of big government.

Not this year.

After wildly cheering speeches from 2012 GOP presidential contenders and members of the freshman congressional class, many CPAC participants said they are more optimistic than usual.

One thing remains the same, though: This year, as in previous ones, the desire dearest to the hearts of attendees was the promotion of “individual freedom by reducing the size of government and its intrusion into the lives of citizens.”

That conservative value topped all others, according to The Washington Times/CPAC Straw Poll of nearly 4,000 conference attendees.

About 84 percent of respondents named that their highest priority. Nine percent said the most important goal was to “promote traditional values by protecting traditional marriage and protect the life of the unborn.”

Third, with 6 percent: securing American safety at home and abroad, regardless of the cost to government.

A plurality of respondents also favored Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican, as their 2012 GOP presidential nominee.

The sponsorship of the poll, conducted by pollster Tony Fabrizio, was part of what was clearly an effort to re-establish The Washington Times as the pre-eminent conservative voice in American journalism after a yearlong ownership struggle that reduced the staff to bare-bones level.

The paper’s new president, Tom McDevitt, took the stage to announce the poll on Saturday afternoon, and he promised a March 21 relaunch of the paper that would once again include sports, metropolitan, arts, business and entertainment sections.

Mr. Paul’s win in the poll — a repeat of his win here last year — was greeted with both cheers and jeers in the jam-packed Marriott Wardman Park Hotel ballroom.

Former New Mexico Gov. Gary E. Johnson, a Republican who shares Mr. Paul’s views on America minding its own business abroad, shrinking government at home and decriminalizing some drugs, was also in the top three, further angering conservatives of opposite views who perennially say Mr. Paul’s legion of youthful followers jam CPAC, stack the deck and distort the poll’s findings.

Mr. Paul is a pro-life libertarian Republican who opposes the Iraq war and, in conspicuous disagreement with many vocal elements of the conservative movement, he does not put Israel’s defense as high on the list of priorities.

Some social conservatives pushed for a boycott of this year’s event because CPAC’s board had allowed GOProud — a free-market, anti-tax group that favors same-sex marriage — to man a booth at the conference.

Still, virtually all 2012 GOP presidential contenders showed up to speak, among them former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, as did Rep. Tom Price, Georgia Republican, and numerous other prominent political figures.

There was also former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a CPAC regular. He will seek the nomination if his wife Callista agrees to it, she and her husband told The Times — and on Friday she said that, at this point, she favored it.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who was Office of Management and Budget director for President George W. Bush, gave what many attendees said was the most intellectually substantive and eloquent speech.

Two black Republicans inspired with deeply moving speeches, fueling talk that retired business executive Herman Cain and freshman Florida Rep. Allen West, a retired army officer, had delivered the conference’s best.

Still others thought Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the man who insists he won’t seek the presidential nomination next year, no matter what, gave the most engaging and satisfying speech. Some think he may decide that there is a “what” that matters — a field of candidates that shows signs of fizzling early enough for him to jump into the contest last this year.

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