The Washington Times - April 7, 2010, 03:08PM

The Southern Republican Leadership Conference starts up on Thursday in New Orleans. The event, which happens every four years, in between presidential elections, will give Republican party leaders and activists a platform to address grassroots conservatives. Speakers will include: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Bobby Jindal, Michael Steele, and Sarah Palin. Ms. Palin, among others,  is being watched very closely at this forum, as political watchers speculate what her next move might be in terms of a presidential run in 2012.

However, 2008’s GOP hopeful Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, will not be at SRLC this year. In fact, Republican Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty is also passing on this event. The Minnesota Governor told press that he will be welcoming home 1,400 Minnesota troops returning from Iraq during the SRLC gathering, but he will appear to attendees via video, however.  


While both Mr. Romney and Mr. Pawlenty both spoke to large audiences at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year in February, neither could beat Republican Texas Congressman Ron Paul in the CPAC straw poll. There are differences between the two gatherings, though.

David Keene, Chairman of both the American Conservative Union and CPAC, was Southern Regional Political Director for Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign.

In an e - mail response he said:

“The two conferences serve different but complimentary purposes. CPAC since the early seventies has given conservatives as conservatives an annual opportunity to get together, network and get to know politicians who seek or enjoy their support. Most of those attending are, of course, Republicans, but they make no secret of the fact that their first allegiance is not to the GOP, but to conservative principles. The Southern Republican Leadership Conference has since the eighties emerged as incredibly important both to the GOP itself and to conservatives within the party. It’s success symbolized the growth of the GOP in the once solidly Democratic South and the emergence of conservatives as the dominant wing of a Republican Party finally able to fight for majority status in a nation dominated for much of the twentieth century by the Democratic Party.

Today many Republican conservative activists attend one or the other of these two conferences and more and more Republican leaders attend both.”

What activists will see as similar to CPAC, though, are the political workshops conducted by Republican Party officials, marquee speaker names like former congressmen J.C. Watts and Rick Santorum as well as Mary Matalin and Liz Cheney, an exhibit hall, general social networking among activists, and straw poll voting. The straw poll will not only show which possible GOP presidential candidates SRLC attendees are taking seriously but also where the base is for the Republican Party.