- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The American Conservative Union said Tuesday that Sen. Marco Rubio’s campaign was making a “rookie mistake” in not taking time for next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference, though the Rubio camp says it never told organizers he would not attend.

“Although, Marco Rubio has built a conservative record and has a high ACU rating, he and his campaign have made a rookie mistake,” the ACU, which hosts the annual conference, said in a statement. “Today the Rubio campaign informed ACU’s chairman that their candidate is unwilling to make time to meet with activists and answer their questions at CPAC 2016.”

The Rubio campaign, though, said it never told organizers he would not attend, and that it simply hasn’t been able to commit to anything because its March schedule has yet to be determined beyond the Republican presidential debates.

The conference, held just outside of Washington, in National Harbor, Maryland, is scheduled for March 2-5 — just after Super Tuesday. A handful of states hold their nominating contests March 5, followed by several more March 8.

The annual gathering of conservative activists routinely attracts presidential candidates and potential candidates and is a major forum for White House hopefuls to pitch themselves to the grass roots.

According to press accounts from Redstate.com, The Free Beacon and other sources, conflicting emails and tweets suggest the Rubio campaign was unsure of the schedule next week. A Republican debate in Detroit falls on March 3, the same day of the CPAC opening and the appearance in question.

“We want to do it, but can’t commit to a specific date or time yet,” tweeted Alex Conant, the Rubio campaign manager.

Meanwhile, the American Conservative Union memo cites the organization’s storied history:

“Ronald Reagan came to CPAC 13 times; he launched his national political career from CPAC and our theme this year comes from President Reagan’s first public address after his 1980 election. That theme is ‘Our Time is Now.’ Reagan’s words ring even truer today than when Reagan first said them. If we do not carry the country in 2016, America will be a different nation. But if conservatives are not central to the effort, we will fail before we even begin.”

The organization concluded, “We also appreciate those candidates and former candidates who have made CPAC 2016 a priority: Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, Scott Walker and Carly Fiorina (our former Foundation Chair.) They honor Reagan’s legacy and they honor the thousands of conservative activists who will spend significant resources to travel to CPAC to learn, be inspired, and eventually vote in our straw poll for the person they want to carry the Reagan torch.”

• Jennifer Harper can be reached at jharper@washingtontimes.com.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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