- The Washington Times - Monday, February 15, 2010

Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio will give the kickoff address at the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Conference this week, The Washington Times has learned.

A record turnout of more than 10,000 activists from around the country, including “tea-party” leaders, is expected at the three-day event, which for decades has been the largest gathering of conservatives.

The pin-up boy for much of the American right and the tea-party movement, Mr. Rubio will lead off the conference at 10 a.m. on Thursday at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington.

“This year’s CPAC signals the point at which conservative activism is regenerating at the local level,” said David A. Keene, whose American Conservative Union is the prime mover behind the conference.

More than ever before, the turnout this time is expected to include people - many of them tea-party leaders - who never previously were involved in the political process or in the conservative movement, Mr. Keene said, attributing the new energy to “a president who wants to Europeanize America” and thus poses a threat to American freedoms.

Mr. Rubio, 38, was late in getting into the Florida Republican nomination contest for the U.S. Senate and lagged far behind in the beginning. But now Mr. Rubio, whose parents were born in Cuba and who was the Florida state House speaker, is the front-runner in the high-stakes nomination battle with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who is anything but a favorite of conservatives.

South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, widely considered the leader of Senate conservatives, will follow Mr. Rubio at the main podium on Thursday. Both Mr. Rubio and Mr. DeMint already had accepted invitations to speak, but The Times learned the order and placement of speakers at CPAC - key indicators of favor in the conservative movement.

After Mr. DeMint will be the ex-politician who has become the man of the hour in dissident Republican political circles - former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, whose Freedom Works organization helped organize the initial April 15 tea parties to protest government spending and intrusiveness and the Sept. 12 march on Washington by tea party activists and others.

Headliners at Thursday afternoon sessions are Liz Cheney, founder and board member of Keep America Safe lobby; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney; Michigan Rep. Thaddeus McCotter; House Republican Leader John A. Boehner; and National Rife Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

At Thursday’s presidential banquet, Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, will receive the John M. Ashbrook Award.

Former Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson will present the Charleton Heston Courage Under Fire Award to a recipient as yet unnamed, after which syndicated columnist George Will takes the podium as the banquet’s featured speaker.

Friday’s big names are Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty at 10 a.m., followed by Iowa Rep. Steve King at 10:30, with Indiana Rep. Mike Pence and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman rounding out the morning sessions.

Conservative-cause financier Brad O’Leary will present former Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft with the Defender of Freedom Award at 1:30 p.m..

Also on tap for stand-alone speeches are Reps. Darrell Issa of California, Tom Price of Georgia and Ron Paul, the libertarian Republican who continues to command a large following among young people.

Former Oklahoma Rep. J.C. Watts, from whom conservative audiences have come to expect stem-winding oratory, is the featured Friday evening banquet speaker.

On Saturday, the CPAC’s concluding day, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania leads off, followed by former Education Secretary Bill Bennett and John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Next, Ann Coulter, the columnist whose intemperate words about Democrat John Edwards got her banned briefly from CPAC makes her second consecutive appearance as a stand-alone speaker.

Rounding out Saturday’s session are former Rep. Bob McEwen, Media Research Center President L. Brent Bozell III, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who always manages to fill the CPAC ballroom to overflowing - and Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

At 6 p.m., controversial TV personality Glenn Beck - almost as despised by many on the left as Sarah Palin - will speak and is expected to fill the Marriott ballroom for CPAC’s closing speech.

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