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2016 Hopefuls Seek to Connect with Conservative Activists at Revamped CPAC 
February 25-28, 2015--Thousands of conservative activists from around the country gathered at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center near Washington, DC for speeches, panels, films, networking, trainings and a bustling exhibit hall at the 42nd Conservative Political Action ConferenceUnder the leadership of Matt Schlapp, who was elected chairman of the American Conservative Union in June 2014, CPAC featured a revamped format with an emphasis on training.  In another change, in addition to delivering their prepared speeches from behind the lectern, presidential prospects engaged in moderated question and answer.

There are no major declared candidates yet, but attendees heard from about 15 of those mentioned as
possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates (the number of potential candidates depends upon whom one includes), as well as from many prominent figures in the conservative movement.  On Thursday Dr. Ben Carson, Gov. Chris Christie (NJ), former HP CEO Carly Fiorina, Sen. Ted Cruz (TX), Gov. Scott Walker (WI), Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA) and former Gov. Sarah Palin (AK) spoke; on Friday Sen. Marco Rubio (FL), Gov. Rick Perry (TX), Sen. Rand Paul (KY), Donald Trump, former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA), former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL), and former Amb. John Bolton spoke and Gov. Mike Pence (IN) addressed the Ronald Reagan dinner.  Additionally former Gov. Gary Johnson (NM), seen as a likely Libertarian presidential candidate, participated in a debate.

Whiile the many potential presidential candidates made their pitches, a speech by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT), who declared at the outset of his remarks that he is not running for president, set the tone of the conference (+).  "Over the next year and a half, everyone in this room, for every single one of us, it’s going to be our job very, very soon to choose the next President of the United States of America," Lee stated, as he urged attendees to pick a "principled, positive and proven" conservative.  "We have a job to do," Lee said.  "And that job is not to just find the guy who can shout 'Freedom' the loudest, or tell the best Joe Biden jokes."  In fact, it was not Joe Biden, but likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton who drew plenty of barbs.  Meanwhile Democrats and their allies offered their own criticisms of CPAC (1, 2, 3).

In the much-watched straw poll, 3,007 registrants participated, up from 2,459 registrants in 2014 and 2,930 in 2013.  Sen. Paul again finished first, winning support of 26% of those participating, down from 31% last year.  The big mover was Gov. Walker, who leaped from 7% last year to 21% this year.  Sen. Cruz came in third at 12% compared to 11% last year.  Neurosurgeon Ben Carson finished fourth at 11% compared to 9% last year (>).  As in past years, attendees included many young people; 42% of registrants were students.
CPAC Scenes
Selected Speakers and Panels
February 26
Opening scenes
Dr. Ben Carson
Gov. Chris Christie (NJ)
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina
Sen. Ted Cruz (TX)
Former Gov. Gary Johnson (NM) in debate on marijuana legalization
Gov. Scott Walker (WI)
Gov. Bobby Jindal (LA)
Former Gov. Sarah Palin (AK)

February 27
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
Talk Show Host Laura Ingraham
Sen. Marco Rubio (FL)
Former Gov. Rick Perry (TX)
Sen. Rand Paul (KY)
   ACU chair Matt Schlapp; talk show host Sean Hannity; RNC chair Reince Priebus
Donald Trump
Former Sen. Rick Santorum (PA)
   Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty; NRA exec. VP and CEO Wayne LaPierre
Former Gov. Jeb Bush (FL)
Former Amb. John Bolton
   Panel on protecting opportunity for all
Gov. Mike Pence (IN) at the Ronald Reagan Dinner

February 28

Scenes from the closing day
Announcement of straw poll results

Exhibits and Around and About
General views   
The exhibit hall 


Now is the time, right now – before the campaign truly begins in earnest – for us to think, long and hard about the kind of candidate that we’re looking for, about the kind of candidate that we want, the kind of candidate that the country needs.

- U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)

     SCHEDULE [PDF]  |  CPAC 2015 website

 Democracy in Action Coverage of Past CPACs:
2014  |  2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005