- The Washington Times - Friday, February 1, 2002

Several Bush administration officials went out to their way to praise conservatives attending yesterday's opening of the 29th annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Arlington, Va.
"You represent what's best in America," National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice told a standing-room-only session of CPAC, where Ronald Reagan had appeared 17 times six of them as president.
President Bush has yet to address CPAC. But he is apparently so popular with the nearly 4,000 conservative activists attending from around the country this year that there was no evident grumbling about his absence.
The nonattendance of other top Bush officials, however, sparked private speculation among some present that the administration didn't want to get too close to an ideological gathering of conservatives so soon after the president's State of the Union speech, which had emphasized bipartisanship.
Vice President Richard B. Cheney, who addressed CPAC last year, and Attorney General John Ashcroft had been on the schedule for the meeting but both declined to attend. Mr. Cheney's aides said that the vice president had a scheduling conflict, while Mr. Ashcroft's aides said that appearing before such a politicized group would be inappropriate. CPAC organizers said they were told Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld also had a scheduling conflict.
However, to underscore the fact that the administration is not distancing itself from its conservative base, Undersecretary of State John Bolton began his speech yesterday by saying that he was "particularly pleased" to address the group "as a representative of the Bush administration."
Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy G. Thompson and Republican National Committee Chairman Marc Racicot also praised the conference and its chief organizer, American Conservative Union Chairman David A. Keene.
Mr. Bolton, who has long been a popular figure among conservatives for his hawkish, pro-military views, originally had been scheduled to address the conference today.
He resisted pressure from senior officials in the State Department not to appear at the gathering, and rescheduled his appearance for yesterday.
His boss, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, has been frequently criticized by conservatives for his support of affirmative action and abortion rights.
Participants from past conferences noted that an unusually large percentage of people attending this year appeared to be younger than 35 years of age. Miss Rice praised the young people in attendance, saying they are the future leaders of the United States.

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