Over the next three days, a parade of conservative lawmakers will make the case for their cause, hammering President Obama and liberalism and burnishing their bonafides with the most activist and energetic wing of the Republican party.
The three-day event wraps on Saturday, which in many ways might be called “women’s day” at CPAC.
Here’s what we’re looking for:
1) Women and Conservatives — As we’ve noted many times in this space, women are in vogue this election cycle. On Saturday, a group of conservative women will discuss why more women should in fact be conservatives. Similarly, the Republican National Committee had a panel 0f conservative women earlier this year who tried to reframe the “war on women.” Saturday’s CPAC panel event — “Why Conservatism is Right for Women: How Conservatives Should Talk about Life, Prosperity and National Security” — will feature writer and radio host Tammy Bruce, author Kate Obenshain, blogger Crystal Wright, Independent Women’s Forum executive director Sabrina Schaeffer and New Hampshire state Rep. Marlinda Garcia. The panel and the efforts, however, could get overshadowed by a Huckabee/Uncle Sugar moment, as happened at the RNC winter meeting.
2) Erika Harold — Harold, Miss America 2003, wants to turn her beauty crown into a congressional seat in Illinois. But it won’t be easy for the Harvard Law grad, who also spoke at the RNC’s 2004 convention. Harold represents everything the GOP needs. She’s young (33), mixed race and a woman. Like Mia Love, who is running for a Utah congressional seat, if Harold wins, she would join a Congress that has never, ever had a black Republican woman. (Love’s victory seems likely). But Harold is running against an incumbent, Rodney Davis, leaving many Republicans scratching their heads about her decision to seek the seat. A strong Tea Party, an anti-incumbent wave and the kind of contacts (Sarah Palin!) and exposure she will get at CPAC could help. So far, she’s more of a shiny object with a budding national profile, but that sort of attention could help her in future races if she doesn’t alienate too many party people in Illinois in the meantime.
3) The Next Michele Bachmann — What is most striking about this year’s CPAC line-up is that although it’s a banner year for women in Congress, and Republicans have four out of the five female governors, few elected women have made the list of speakers. Bachmann, who is retiring, will speak, and there could be others, though the official schedule doesn’t include any Republican women senators.
And none of those four Republican women governors — Nikki Haley (South Carolina), Susana Martinez (New Mexico), Jan Brewer (Arizona) and Mary Fallin (Oklahoma) — are scheduled to speak, either.
“We’re still announcing speakers and panelists, and since it’s CPAC, some surprises, as well,” said Meghan M. Snyder, communications director for the American Conservative Union, via email.
Conference organizers and some lawmakers’ aides wouldn’t say whether speaker invites went out but were turned down.
An aide to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (Wash.), whom GOP leadership tapped to rebut President Obama’s State of the Union address, said the congresswoman will be at CPAC’s Thursday nightBlog Bash, but would not be on the CPAC stage because she’ll be attending the American Enterprise Institute World Forum.
The line-up of men who make up the Friday schedule includes those who are most often talked about as presidential contenders. The paucity of women speakers leaves some wanting.
“I’d love to see more women there, and I would love to see some other types of women,” said Katie Packer Gage, of Burning Glass Consulting, a firm that is trying to help Republicans close the gender gap. “Last year, I sat and listened to Sarah Palin and Phyllis Schlafly back-to-back, and I’m not really sure that these are the voices that are going to attract the women we need to win elections.
” But it’s CPAC, not the Republican party,” Gage said. “I would be doing everything I could to have Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Susanna Martinez and Kelly Ayotte, who are very conservative women who are articulating the kind of messages that are appealing to women.”
Martinez and Ayotte have been mentioned as presidential contenders and could follow in Bachmann’s footsteps by carrying the conservative banner in 2016.
4) Sarah Palin and her props — Palin is a pro at this stuff. She is snarky and snide, and she understands a soundbite like nobody else. Last year, she went with the Big Gulp, referring to then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempted ban on giant sugary sodas. Who knows what she’ll bring this time. But, undoubtedly, if this year is anything like last year, she will say or do something that will frame the entire event. She is just that good.