CPAC has officially begun, with Marco Rubio in the spotlight.
The yearly Conservative Political Action Conference--a who's who of conservative politicians and activists who can afford the trip to Washington, DC--kicked off this morning with a speech from Marco Rubio, the Florida Senate candidate that has consumed more national conservative attention than any other 2010 candidate for office (and that includes Pat Toomey, who for years ran the Club for Growth and is now running for Senate in Pennsylvania).
Rubio was introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC), and the crowd at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel went nuts, whooping as he took the stage to rock music over the P.A.
He spoke at the same time as President Obama delivered remarks on his new deficit-reduction commission.
Near the beginning of his speech, Rubio made the second teleprompter joke of the conference's first 15 minutes, then went on to deliver a speech that mixed conservative philosophy, audience-friendly applause lines, and campaign jabs.
The "old rules of political engagement do not apply," Rubio said. "A long list of early establishment endorsements will not spare you a primary...clever one-line slogans aren't going to spare you the need to discuss policy issues in detail...the U.S. Senate already has one Arlen Specter too many"--some direct shots at his centrist primary opponent, Gov. Charlie Crist (R).
Rubio seemed to lose the audience a bit in the middle of his speech as he dropped some big words that didn't resonate, but he swung them around by talking about taxes, abortion, and terrorism.
At one point, someone in the audience yelled "Waterboard 'em!"; Rubio, somewhat sheepishly, suggested we "get useful information from them" as the audience laughed.
His biggest applause line: he called tea party-ism the greatest movement in American history.
Jessica Olien contributed to this report.