A version of this column appeared originally in THE DAILY BEAST.
Mitt Romney may have won the straw poll but Sarah Palin won CPAC's heart—electrifying the Conservative Political Action Conference with one of the most rousing and effective political speeches of recent years. Both winners managed to advance the cause of conservative unity and raised the prospects for a competitive and formidable Republican challenge to Barack Obama's re-election.
Romney's win among conservative activists, especially combined with his simultaneous victory in the Maine caucuses completed on Saturday, will help to change the over-stated and misleading media narrative about Mitt's supposed inability to connect with his party's conservative base.
After spending three days at CPAC with a mob of 10,000 engaged activists, I can report with first-hand assurance that there's scant accuracy to all the reports of the right wing feeling dispirited or lackadaisical about the upcoming campaign. On my radio show (which I broadcast live from the site of the conference) I described the occasion as a "conservative Woodstock—without the drugs and without the nudity." Most certainly, a festive atmosphere prevailed, with hordes of well-scrubbed, eager-eyed, college-age volunteers and the vast majority of participants falling below the age of 55. All three of the presidential candidates who spoke got rousing receptions, as did any speaker (virtually all of them) who pronounced the words "most important election of our lifetime" and identified victory in November as an essential for national salvation. Ron Paul declined to participate this year for reasons that remain unclear (he won the straw poll the last two years) but his son, Senator Rand Paul, represented the libertarian family business with a good-natured but low-voltage pitch in his papa's behalf.