A plethora of potential presidential contenders will descend on Washington over the next three days to state their case to thousands of attendees at CPAC, the American Conservative Union's 38th annual gathering of Republican politicians and conservative activists and thinkers.
While the White House 2012 picture remains remarkably distorted, this three-day event will feature more than a dozen speakers whose names have been mentioned in the presidential conversation. CPAC provides an unparalleled forum for White House aspirants to sell their message -- and themselves -- to some of the most powerful and influential factions of the conservative movement.
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White House hopefuls will swear they aren't working too hard to manipulate CPAC's annual presidential straw poll, the results of which are announced at the end of the weekend's festivities. But behind the scenes, most campaigns are running a somewhat organized drive to secure votes.
Winning the straw poll certainly doesn't guarantee anything -- Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) won it last year and remains a long shot to win the GOP nomination -- but any candidate who wins gets guaranteed press coverage throughout the weekend.
Each speaker will deliver their own distinct message, but with a unifying theme: They will take every opportunity to criticize President Obama. Here's a complete rundown of what to expect from the GOP presidential hopefuls who are speaking this weekend:
THURSDAY, FEB. 10
9:15 a.m. -- Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.): It should prove difficult for any speaker to steal the show during this event's maiden address, but if anyone can pull it off, it's Bachmann. Her penchant for fiery prose makes her a natural favorite the CPAC crowd, whose ideological leanings are right in Bachhmann's wheelhouse. Unlike sure-fire presidential hopefuls, Bachmann won't worry about taking risks -- expect nothing less than her customary firebrand rhetoric.
12:30 p.m. -- Former Speaker Newt Gingrich: Expect a little bit of everything when Professor Gingrich steps to the stage: foreign policy, energy independence, fiscal discipline. It won't be accidental: Gingrich wants to portray himself as Obama's most formidable foe by demonstrating an ability to challenge him on a wide range of issues. He'll focus on energy with a renewed call to abolish the EPA; look for him to link that argument to the current Middle Eastern mayhem, making his case for energy independence all the more relevant.
1:45 p.m. -- Ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.): Despite being perhaps the most conservative of any potential candidate, Santorum is rarely mentioned in the same breath as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) or former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R). But their absence from this weekend's festivities provides a priceless opportunity for Santorum to establish himself as a serious contender for the votes of social conservatives, a group he absolutely must own in order to have any shot at winning the GOP nomination.
3:00 p.m. -- Businessman Donald Trump: A last-minute addition to the CPAC roster, "The Donald" has said several times recently that he's mulling a presidential bid, but his decision to address CPAC is the strongest indication yet that Trump is seriously weighing his viability as a presidential contender. Look for him to focus on the lack of "respect" America gets around the world, especially from China, whom Trump will undoubtedly single out as a currency manipulator and global bully.
FRIDAY, FEB. 11
9:30 a.m. -- Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson (R): After initially being denied a spot in the speaking lineup, the libertarian-leaning Johnson was awarded a last-minute slot to preach his platform of marijuana legalization and ending the drug wars at home and foreign wars abroad. His message will undoubtedly resonate with a chunk of the CPAC crowd, but the majority of conservatives will dismiss his ideology as extreme.
10:30 a.m. -- Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R): After keeping an extremely low profile in recent months, Romney takes the stage as the vulnerable front-runner with a massive elephant looming in the room. Romney has tiptoed around questions comparing his Massachusetts health care plan to Obama's federal law, and while it's likely that he'll eventually address that issue head-on, don't expect it this weekend. Instead, look for Romney to play it very safe, pounding the themes of "American exceptionalism" and job creation.