Jillian Bandes

Welcome to the schmoozy, boozy wonderland of the Southern Republican Leadership conference.

The southern belles have curled their blonde bobs so tightly that there's no way we're not winning in November. Bouncy volunteers are ushering businessmen into a political blitz. Bourbon Street is oozing into the ballroom.

When you hold a conference like this, in a location like this, things seem really, really great. People are thrilled to just exist here. Compared to 2006, the state of Republican affairs are like Christmas. With good weather.

Unfortunately, it may be a Christmas without Santa Claus.

Both Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, two perceived GOP presidential frontrunners, have bowed out of the happenings. Pawlenty's absent because of his obligation to welcome troops back home to Minnesota, and Romney isn't here because, uh, he needed to attend the New England Council "Politics and Eggs" breakfast at Bedford Village Inn. Really.

Why did T-Paw and Big Mitt buck the Big Easy? Mary Matalin, a speaker on Thursday evening, may have given some insight. Critics, and the mainstream media, "imply that having an anchor in the South is somehow an albatross" for the Republican Party, she said.

Sean Hannity FREE

Maybe. Romney has rumors circulating that he'll ignore the South for his Presidential bid, a previously unthinkable maneuver for a Republican candidate. Romney's a northeastern boy, and T-Paw's from the Midwest, so maybe their geographical distance contributed to their emotional distance.

But that doesn't explain it. Is it simply that they're too good to show up? That's more likely. Both T-Paw and Mitt have such an assemblage around them — people, cash, momentum — that it's more likely they viewed the SRLC as a chance to buck convention, literally and figuratively. They were at the Conservative Political Action Conference, held last month in D.C., but decided to shun the voodoo of Louisiana's flagship city. They're confident in D.C. circles, but don't think they need to rely on the relaxed and easy atmosphere of SRLC.

Thankfully, attendees aren't concerned. They're more interested in talking politics and gushing over the guys who did show up.

Jillian Bandes

Jillian Bandes is the National Political Reporter for Townhall.com