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Conservatives Ponder Future, Hear Presidential Hopefuls


(WBEN/AP) Friday marks the second day of the Conservative Political Action Conference, which brings thousands of conservative activists to suburban Washington each year to put their stamp on the Republican Party.

The day's speaking program features three former presidential candidates known for promoting social conservative values - Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul takes the stage later in the day, setting up a clash of ideas between the libertarian-minded activists who generally flock to the conservative conference and the religious wing of the GOP, which continues to wield influence over party affairs. An afternoon panel discussion is titled, "Can Libertarians and Social Conservatives Ever Get Along?"

COMPLETE COVERAGE: Video of NRA's Wayne LaPierre | Donald Trump | Possible 2016 Candidates
Read more: Conservative Try to Find Balance | Auditioning for Presidential Runs?

AP Photo

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie speaks at the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, March 6, 2014. Christie, facing conservatives who have been slow to embrace him, received applause throughout a speech that highlighted his opposition to abortion and stressed the importance of getting results. "We don't get to govern if we don't win," Christie said.
(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
  AP Photo

Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Committee annual conference in National Harbor, Md., Thursday.
While supporters of his possible run for NYS Governor had hinted he would mention something about his intentions there, the speech instead focused on trade and the economy /
(AP Photo/Cliff Owen)


The early auditions for the Republican Party's next presidential contest are in full swing at the nation's largest annual gathering of conservative activists, where some of the GOP's most prominent religious conservatives are facing off.

On Thursday, the initial slate of Republicans vying for the party's next presidential nomination called for the GOP to unite behind a clear agenda and draw contrasts with Democrats. The contestants ranged from Sen. Ted Cruz, a tea party champion, to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a favorite of the Republican establishment.

"If you want to lose elections, stand for nothing," said Cruz, who cited as examples the unsuccessful presidential bids of Bob Dole, John McCain and Mitt Romney. "When you don't stand and draw a clear distinction, when you don't stand for principle, Democrats celebrate."T

VIDEO: Possible Presidential Candidates
Auditioning for 2016?


The day offered an early tryout for a half-dozen Republican officials eager to win over the party's most passionate voters. At stake this year is the Senate majority, currently held by senators in President Barack Obama's Democratic Party. But for all, the November elections could serve as a springboard for the next presidential contest.

Republicans have much to mend before 2016, starting with a stark ideological divide between the party's establishment and the super-conservatives who rose to power in the tea party-fueled 2010 elections that delivered a Republican House majority. Fiscal crises, compromises and a war of words have separated the factions from the top down despite widespread agreement that Obama's signature health care law should be overturned.

More than two years out from the election to succeed Obama, there's no clear front-runner for the Republican nomination. But Republicans interested in the job are filing across the stage at a hotel complex outside Washington - bashing the media, criticizing Obama and making a case for being the candidate who can win the White House.


The conservative conference comes less than a year after the Republican National Committee released a comprehensive plan to broaden the party's appeal after a disappointing 2012 election season.

Most of the speakers Thursday touched upon existing divisions within the party that threaten to derail its plans. They offered varied perspectives on foreign policy, social issues and political strategy, but each insisted that the Republican Party's future is bright.

And as Obama and European leaders try to address Russian military aggression in Ukraine's Crimea peninsula, Republicans faulted the president's leadership around the globe.

The three-day conference runs through Saturday, when conference organizers will announce the results of their annual symbolic presidential straw poll.

VIDEO: See NRA VP Wayne LaPierre's Thursday Speech to C-PAC


Conservatives face balancing act on the direction of the GOP

CBS's Elections Director Anthony Salvanto writes:

Though most Americans say they want compromise and concession between the two parties, the fact is, some are wary of it. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, spoke to some of this sentiment Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) by urging conservatives to stand on principle, and some of the fissures in the Republican party today are actually about those tactics more so than they are about ideology.

This chart shows the desire to see "compromise" in Washington, broken out by Republican tea party supporters, and Republicans who are not, from the latest CBS News Poll: tea party Republicans are three times more likely to call for conservatives to stick to their positions without compromise.

salvanto-cpac1-income.pngAt CPAC, many speakers have also talked of inequality, opportunity or how to deal with poverty. That isn't just Republicans looking to draw new voters, they have to addresses issues with their own base too. Self-identified Republicans span income levels, but those in the lower- and middle-income tiers differ from upper-income Republicans in their views on inequality: Republicans earning under $50,000 are apt to think income distribution in the U.S. should be more even than it is. By contrast, Republicans who earn over $50,000 mostly - though not exclusively - would describe the current distribution of wealth in the U.S. as "fair."

Bigger picture, the basic breakdown within the Republican Party shows that conservatives do dominate - which speaks to the balancing act the party has as it tries to bring in more moderates and independent voters to grow its coalition.



And here's where that matters in the fight for the party's direction: Republican moderates feel the party's current candidates are about right or too conservative, but many Republican conservatives don't see the status quo as ok; they want the party's nominees to go further right, still, and that its candidates should be more conservative.



VIDEO: Donald Trump Speaks Thursday to C-PAC

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