The annual Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off Thursday, with thousands of conservative activists descending on Washington.
In between panel discussions (and a conservative dating seminar), top Republican pundits and politicians, including all of the presidential candidates (save Texas Rep. Ron Paul) will make their pitches to the crowd.
Here’s what you should watch for:
Romney speaks Friday at 12:55 p.m. He’ll have to try to prove that he isn’t squeezed into an impossible space — that he can appeal to the conservatives in the room while staying presidential for the cameras.
Columnist Ann Coulter is speaking at 11:50 a.m. on Friday; she could face anger for endorsing Romney.
* A Gingrich turnaround: Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has kept a pretty low profile since his awkward, tense news conference after the Nevada caucuses. His CPAC speech, at 4:10 on Friday afternoon, is a chance to hit the reset button and keep former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum from dominating the “conservative alternative” space.
* Rand Paul: Previous CPAC conferences have been dominated by supporters of his father. With his dad off the agenda this year, this speech is Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s opportunity to prove he can carry the Paul torch while expanding its appeal.
* A Palin endorsement: Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin is speaking at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday. There’s a possibility she will use her appearance, the last speech of the conference, to endorse a presidential candidate. She has defended and praised former House speaker Newt Gingrich repeatedly in recent weeks. While her stock in the GOP has obviously declined, she still has a following and could give the struggling candidate a boost.
* Occupy CPAC: Occupy DC is planning a protest at the CPAC conference. “Create as much non-violent resistance as possible, and make this a conference the attendees will never forget,” the Web site tells supporters. A confrontation between Occupy protesters and attendees at an Americans for Prosperity event in November got ugly.