The American Conservative Union on Thursday kicked off the 37th annual Conservative Political Action Conference — an event long known for red-meat rhetoric and patriotic fervor. The conference typically attracts the Republican Party faithful, but this year CPAC will also play host to numerous members of the populist "tea party" movement. The group has emerged as a powerful force on the grass-roots level over the past year, and Republicans hope to harness their energy to make significant gains in the 2010 elections. Two stars of the tea party movement will be keynote speakers on the first day of the three-day conference at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park hotel. Senate candidate and tea party darling Marco Rubio of Florida will address CPAC at 10 a.m. Thursday. Rubio will be followed at 10:30 a.m. by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has supported the tea party cause from inside the Capitol. Former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), chairman of FreedomWorks — a major financial engine of the tea party movement — will speak inside the Marriott ballroom at 11:30 a.m. Several members of House Republican leadership will also address CPAC on Thursday. Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) and Policy Committee Chairman Thaddeus McCotter (Mich.) are scheduled to deliver keynote speeches in the afternoon. The conference traditionally provides an opportunity for potential 2012 presidential contenders to brandish their conservative credentials. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who announced his decision to pull out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination at the CPAC podium in 2008, will speak in the Marriott ballroom at 1:30 p.m. Romney defeated nine contenders last year in the conference's presidential straw poll, winning by 20 percent. While the speakers tend to draw most of the media attention at CPAC, there are dozens of seminars and panels scheduled throughout the conference that are dedicated to traditional conservative themes such as smaller government, national security and lower taxes. Several of this year's seminars are dedicated to showing CPAC attendees how to use new media to spread those themes and expand the conservative movement.