The annual Republican Leadership Conference — former known as the Southern Republican Leadership Conference — kicks off Thursday in New Orleans, with several notable presidential candidates and potential candidates taking part in the annual cattle call.

Against our better judgement, we are sending a member of The Fix team to brave the near-record-high temperatures in the Crescent City.

As you follow The Fix’s coverage, we thought it worthwhile to give you a few things to watch for.

* Rick-rolled? Texas Gov. Rick Perry is perhaps the most-anticipated speaker, as he looms as a potential game-changing late entry into the presidential field. At last year’s conference, Perry delivered a very well-received speech as a governor who had triumphantly just defeated Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison in his reelection primary; Saturday, he will make headlines as a potential frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary. Everyone will be looking for clues about his political plans. Unfortunately, he will not take part in the straw poll, though, as he was left off the ballot.

* Huntsman’s reception: Former Utah governor Jon Huntsman is, for all intents and purposes, a candidate. And this is his first big event with that label attached to him. It also happens to be in front of a very conservative audience that may not be so nice to someone with a reputation as a moderate — not to mention someone who seved in President Obama’s administration. Political analysts think he has what it takes, but can conservative activists look past the red (blue?) marks on his resume and allow Huntsman to define himself? Do they even give him the time of day? That’s a big question.

* Yes, he Cain. But will he? This is the forum where pizza magnate Herman Cain is supposed to shine, and he needs to. The emergence of Rep. Michele Bachmann at Monday’s debate spells bad things for Cain, who was heretofore the tea party outsider looking to shoot the gap to the GOP nomination. Now that’s Bachmann, who people are taking a lot more seriously. Cain, meanwhile, didn’t have the best time at Monday’s debate, in which he offered a tortured answer about whether he would employ a Muslim in his administration. Delivering speeches is more in Cain’s wheelhouse, and we’re counting on a stemwinder on Friday afternoon.

* No Tim, no Mitt: The most conspicuous absences are former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty. This isn’t really their forte, so that’s understandable (Romney still won the straw poll last year, despite not attending). Monday’s debate notwithstanding, they are the two candidates seen as the most formidable so far. With them off the stage — at least in person — it allows for other people to step up.

* New star? Speaking of which: Cain made a name for himself with strong speech last year, during which he alluded to his presidential plans. This year, we’ll be looking for the next Republican to make his or her entry on to the national stage. The favorites: George P. Bush, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz (tea party favorite running for Senate, who just got a nice write-up from George Will) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.). also worth watching: Dale “Thugs and Criminals” Peterson (Yes, he’ll actually be there. And no, we’re not serious about him being a rising star).

Keep an eye on The Fix for all the latest.

Huntsman adviser hits Pawlenty, Romney: Huntsman isn’t even in the GOP presidential primary officially, but his top adviser is already taking shots at his future opponents.

In a Huntsman profile posted to the Esquire website Wednesday afternoon, John Weaver, a McCain campaign veteran who is now heading Huntsman’s effort, had some choice words for Pawlenty and Romney.

Of Pawlenty: “Tim’s a nice guy ... and there’s nothing worse than seeing a nice guy pretend that he’s angry. Is that really what we want to be? Is that how we’re going to define ourselves? When’s the last time an angry man ever solved a problem without using a gun?”

Of Romney: “What version are we on now? Mitt 5.0? 6.0?”

Huntsman’s team appears to be setting the tone that Pawlenty declined to in Monday’s debate — i.e. ‘I’m going to be the aggressor in defining my opponents.’

These words means something — especially coming from Weaver.

Gingrich attacks ABC and NBC: In an appearance on Fox News on Wednesday night, presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said recent stories about his business dealings and his wife’s role in his campaign staff’s exit have been off-base and unfair

ABC reported that Gingrich used money from his charity to pay his for-profit company. NBC reported that staffers quit largely because of his wife, Callista.

Gingrich called the ABC report “so inaccurate” and a “hit piece.” He said NBC owes Callista an apology.

“After all my years of public life, I don’t mind people attacking me; I’m a big guy I can take it,” he said. “But to go after anyone’s wife, I think is pretty despicable.”

Hahn filing complaint against Huey: California House candidate Janice Hahn (D) is not letting up on an offensive web ad run against her by a conservative third party group in an upcoming special election.

The video features Hahn’s face edited onto the body of a pole-dancing stripper, surrounded by “hardcore gang members.” While Republican candidate Craig Huey has denounced it as “blatantly racist and sexist,” Hahn is filing a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging coordination between Huey’s campaign and Turn Right USA PAC, the group behind the ad.

“The ad was not authorized and not affiliated with my campaign,” Huey said in a statement earlier today. “Whether people agree with my politics or not, anyone who knows me can attest to the fact that I would not participate in something of this nature.”

Hahn’s camp counters that, according to FEC reports, the PAC that launched the ad used to share a mailing address with CampaignLA, a Huey campaign vendor.

Huey took a surprise second-place finish in the California’s 36th district “jungle primary” last month, where candidates from all parties vied for the top two spots. Hahn is favored to win the July 12 runoff, as the district, previously held by former Rep. Jane Harman (D), is overwhelmingly Democratic. But she isn’t taking any chances of late.


Former senator Rick Santorum names his communications staff.

Former Florida governor and education activist Jeb Bush (R) endorses Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R) education reforms.

Pawlenty is sending mail in Iowa.

Pawlenty tweet-attacks Obama.

Two tea party Republican senators — Utah’s Mike Lee and Kentucky’s Rand Paul — join two dozen Democrats in calling for a hastened exit from Afghanistan.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) is going to Glenn Beck’s rally in Israel, but no major GOP presidential candidates have committed yet.


Iowa could decide Romney’s top competition” — Thomas Beuamont, AP

Huckabee to Pawlenty: Fire your advisers” — Martin Gould, Newsmax

A year later, Sherrod won’t go away” — Krissah Thompson, The Washington Post