And there appears to be plenty of audience demand, despite the seeming danger that the marketplace is becoming too crowded. CPAC Chicago drew 2,000 attendees, while 1,500 attended all or part of Faith and Freedom. Tickets for the latter ranged in price from $35 (for students who skipped the banquet) to $224 (for the full program, starting with Thursday's luncheon featuring Rubio); that covered some meals, but not travel or hotel costs for the attendees, many of whom came from far and wide.
For Marvin and Barbara Asmus, octogenarians from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, the Faith and Freedom gathering was an excuse for a vacation to Washington as well as an opportunity to be around like-minded people. They came a few days early to take in such sights as the Newseum, the Spy Museum and the National Cathedral. "We're Christians and we're conservatives, in that order," said Marvin, a retired spice importer in a plaid suit. "It's encouraging being with so many like-minded people. You couldn't get in an argument around here no matter how hard you tried." The pair, who supported Santorum during the primaries, said they would leave Washington freshly inspired to work to get Mitt Romney elected. "Glenn Beck brought me to tears," Barbara confessed. "I have got to do more to get my three children involved in politics."
If there is a tinge of profiteering or self-promotion to the welter of political exhibitions, their organizers say it is all in service of the cause. "In spite of the amazing lineup of speakers, the main focus is really on training and equipping grass-roots activists to go back to their respective states, organize at the precinct level, and educate, persuade, mobilize, register and turn out voters," Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed told me. He noted that the Washington conference was supplemented by forums held in half a dozen states. While Reed allowed there was probably some duplication between his event and the Values Voter Summit, he said there was no animosity between the two: Tony Perkins, whose organization sponsors Values Voter, spoke on the Faith and Freedom program.
The constant conferencing has some obvious upsides for the conservative movement. It helps keep the base engaged, enthused, and working to build the kind of grassroots organization that has historically been Democrats' stronger suit. And while the flood of invitations can be wearying for Republican politicians, who must carefully pick and choose appearances based on whom they wish to appeal to and what message they hope to send, it's also a valuable opportunity for officeholders with their eyes on bigger things to build a profile outside their home states.
In his address to the conference's concluding banquet, Reed sketched an expansive vision for his group's influence: Lobbyists at all 50 state legislatures, 5 million members, a $100 million annual budget. During this year's elections, he proclaimed, Faith and Freedom plans to build a database of more than 25 million social conservative voters, then contact each of them seven to 12 times -- with mailers, phone calls, emails, text messages and door knocks -- to make sure they vote.