CPAC Update: Rubio and Paul Are Going

Daniel Doherty

1/16/2014 10:15:00 AM - Daniel Doherty

The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) is just around the corner, and it's time to get excited. National Journal reports today that Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul are the first two headliners to confirm they will indeed attend the three-day event:

Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky will be among the headliners at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference, the conservative movement's annual pep rally and popularity contest for the Republican Party's likely presidential contenders.

Too early to be talking about 2016? Not really. The Iowa caucus is two years away, and if past cycles are any indication, candidates typically launch their campaigns more than six months before then. That means 2014 is the year when would-be candidates start securing big donors and laying the groundwork in early-voting states.

"This presidential cycle for Republicans starts earlier than ever, in part because it's the first time in a while we have an open seat without a leading candidate who has run before," said Al Cardenas, chairman of the American Conservative Union, which sponsors CPAC. "We're almost off and running, and CPAC is the beginning of that journey."

Indeed, in contrast to Hillary Clinton's dominance on the Democratic side, the Republican field is wide open, featuring a slew of fast-rising newcomers and, possibly, a couple of also-rans from 2012. Paul won CPAC's straw poll in 2013, while Rubio came in a close second.

Rubio and Paul are the only speakers CPAC is announcing Thursday, but some familiar faces are expected, including Ted Cruz, Paul Ryan, Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Rick Santorum.

I imagine all the usual suspects will be there. But what about more establishment presidential hopefuls like Chris Christie and Jeb Bush? Will they attend? To be determined:

There are two wild cards: Chris Christie, notoriously snubbed by CPAC last year in part for palling around with President Obama after superstorm Sandy, and Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor who appears more likely to stay on the sidelines. The interest in the New Jersey governor will be particularly intense because of the scandal over his office's role in creating a massive traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge, allegedly as part of a political vendetta.

Last year's CPAC gathering peaked at around 10,000 activists, and Cardenas said registration is running ahead for the March 6-8 convention at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center in Maryland.

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