The populist "tea party" movement, which many Republicans believe will give them the momentum they need to take control of the House and Senate in 2010, will play a central role at the Conservative Political Action Conference that kicks off in Washington, D.C., Thursday.
Senate candidate and tea party movement star Marco Rubio (Fla.) will be the first of many featured speakers in the main ballroom at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park.
Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), chairman of FreedomWorks — a major financial engine of the tea party movement — will also address the meeting on Thursday.
GOP Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Steve King (Iowa), who have championed the movement from inside the House, also have prominent speaking roles during the three-day conference.
But the focus on the tea party movement is not the only change. For the past several years, CPAC was held at the Omni Shoreham hotel, but CPAC Director Lisa De Pasquale said the group chose to move to the Marriott because of its larger lobby and ballrooms.
Even though the 2010 event falls during a recess week when Members are traditionally out of town, several Members of Congress are scheduled to attend the conference.
Republican House Members slated to give keynote addresses or lead seminars throughout the event include Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio); Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.); Minority Whip Eric Cantor (Va.); Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.); Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.); and Reps. Darrell Issa (Calif.), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and former presidential candidate Ron Paul (Texas).
Only two members of the Senate — Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and David Vitter (La.) — are expected at CPAC, according to a copy of the event schedule.
The list of seminars shows a concerted effort by organizers to reach out to young people and Hispanics. Two seminars that highlight the outreach efforts are scheduled.
But these sessions, titled "Immigration: The Defining Issue for the Republican Party" and "The Rise of Latino Conservatism" are still buffered by other events that highlight the problems of illegal immigration. For example, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth (Ariz.) will introduce a film titled "Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration" the same day as the "The Rise of the Latino Conservatism" seminar is scheduled to take place.
The conference will also allow provide an opportunity for potential 2012 contenders to brandish their conservative credentials. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney are both scheduled to speak at the conference. Romney defeated nine contenders last year in the conference's presidential straw poll, winning by 20 percent.
A CPAC favorite, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) — who often creates presidential buzz among the conservative set — is also expected to speak at the conference.
While former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is not scheduled to attend CPAC, she is well represented. A forum called "Going Rogue: Women Changing the Face of Conservatism" will feature several female pundits, including Phyllis Schlafly and Kate Obenshain.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), whose election last fall was seen as an early sign of Democratic electoral weakness heading into 2010, and who gave the GOP response to the State of Union Address just days after his swearing in, will not make his scheduled CPAC appearance. McDonnell was scheduled to speak to at the conference on Saturday, but backed out because the state's House and Senate release their budgets this week, spokeswoman Stacey Johnson told Roll Call.