From Thursday morning to Saturday night, we'll be covering the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), a yearly gathering of politicians, activists and influential thinkers on the right. You can watch the whole conference on video below, and follow along with our liveblog of the key speeches and events.
Live video coverage will continue Friday at 9am
4:12 p.m.: Chick fil-A gets another shout-out
For the second time on Thursday, Chick fil-A got some love on stage at CPAC, with Rep. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) praising the company's influence on his life. (On Thursday morning, former congressman Allen West also mentioned Chick fil-A's role in his life.)
Scott said a conservative Republican at Chick fil-A became his mentor and guided him toward conservatism.
"John started teaching me some of the most valuable lessons I've ever learned," said Scott, a former congressman who was recently appointed to the Senate. "He taught me that having a job is a good thing, but creating jobs is a far better thing."
Scott added: "Because of John, my mentor, I'm sure that was a part of my path to becoming a red-blooded conservative, because he taught me how to think my way out of poverty."
Texas Gov. Rick Perry took a shot at his former GOP presidential primary opponent, saying that Mitt Romney's presidential loss says nothing about conservatism because Romney isn't a conservative.
"The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideals, as evidenced by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they say," Perry said. "That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012.”
Romney's campaign was tough on Perry during the 2012 race, viewing him as its most significant obstacle to the nomination and attacking him accordingly on issues like Perry's support for in-state tuition for the children of illegal immigrants.
Romney will address CPAC on Friday afternoon. McCain is not scheduled to speak.
Perry also accused President Obama of "dangerously releasing federal prisoners on to our streets to make a political point."
Perry said the White House is engaging in a politically craven effort to make the sequester look worse than it is, including releasing prisoners and closing the White House to tourists. He said the result is a deceiving "portrait of pain."
"What we are getting is a lot of hysteria," Perry said. "We're getting a lot of hysteria from a president more concerned about the next election than saving Social Security or Medicare."
Federal prisons are in for a $355 million cut thanks to the sequester. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has acknowledged releasing hundreds of detained immigrants in San Diego and other locations, while emphasizing that they are "non-criminals and other low-risk offenders."
Perry's 2012 presidential campaign quickly fizzled, but he's eyeing a 2014 reelection campaign in Texas (which would be his fourth gubernatorial run) and possibly even another presidential run in 2016.
Something we missed in real time: As Rand Paul was taking the stage this afternoon, someone in the crowd shouted out "Don't drone me, bro."
The reference, of course, is to a years-old video of a man being tased by police while repeating "don't tase me, bro."
Paul began by saying he had "a message that is loud and clear, a message that doesn't mince words."
The interjecter then offered: "Don't drone me, bro!"
Paul responded: "That's not exactly what I was thinking. However I think he may have distilled my 13-hour speech into three words."
Four words actually. But who's counting, bro?
(h/t to the National Review)
Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, widely viewed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, has asked not to be included on this year's presidential straw poll ballot.
"We asked not to be included when the invitation to speak was first extended," said spokesperson Jaryn Emhof. "As Gov Bush has said repeatedly, it is too early to think about 2016."
The straw poll ballot includes dozens of other names. Mitt Romney won the 2012 straw poll, while Ron Paul won the previous two.
-- Sean Sullivan
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), appearing just after Rubio, got a similar if slightly more consistent level of support from the crowd at CPAC.
While delivering a speech playing up the ideal of liberty and defending his 13-hour filibuster last week, Paul reserved his strongest words for his critics. And while he didn't name Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who labeled Paul a "wacko bird" after the filibuster, Paul's reference was clear.
"The GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered," Paul said. "I don't think we need to name any names here, do we?"
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) took to the stage as the first big-ticket speaker of the weekend, and he didn't disappoint the conservative faithful.
Rubio used his speech to build up the middle class and argue that the vast majority of Americans are not reliant on government services -- as Mitt Romney suggested in the so-called "47 percent" video.
"The vast majority of the American people are hard-working taxpayers who take responsibility for their families, go to work every day, they pay their mortgage on time, they volunteer in their community," Rubio said. "This is where the vast majority of the American people are.
"What's changed is the world around us."
For the full recap, see our break-out post.
Freshman Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who conservatives are talking up as a potential challenger to Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) in 2014, said Thursday that he's in no hurry to consider the race.
He noted that now-Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.) didn't launch his 2010 campaign until January of the election year.
"There'll be a time later for me to think more seriously about politics, but I don't anticipate that'll be for many months," Cotton said.
Rep. Tim Griffin's (R-Ark.) decision to pass on the race has led to Cotton's stock rising, despite the 35-year old having been elected to the House just last year. When it was pointed out that many saw him as next in line, Cotton said: "It must be a short line."
Pryor is considered a top GOP target this cycle. Arkansas Lt. Gov. Mark Darr (R) appears to be leaning toward challenging Pryor, and Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) also said this week that he is open to the idea of running.
Dick Morris, the former Fox News contributor who was much maligned after making wildly inaccurate predictions about the 2012 election, announced Thursday that he will be hosting a drive-time afternoon radio program out of Philadelphia, on WPHT.
"I will be talking extensively about national and local politics, and local politics will include my view of Chris Christie," Morris said. "You notice he's not speaking here today, because after Barack let him ride in Air Force One, he bought an ice cream cone."
Christie, the New Jersey governor, earned the ire of some conservatives for praising President Obama in the days after Superstorm Sandy, just before the 2012 election. He was not invited to speak at CPAC.
During a debate over whether the country is engaging in too many wars, outspoken conservative Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) made the case that the United States was on the doorstep of victory in Vietnam but gave up.
"Vietnam was winnable, but people in Washington decided we would not win it," Gohmert said.
Gohmert said a North Vietnamese guard told an American prisoner of war "You stupid Americans. Don't you know if you had bombed us for one more week, we would have had to surrender unconditionally?"
"We carpet-bombed North Vietnam, and specifically Hanoi, for two weeks. They race back to the table, and we surrender in effect," Gohmert said.
Gohmert also acknowledged that his outspokenness has often rubbed party leaders the wrong way.
"John Boehner would tell you I don't speak for him," he said.
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), the fiscally conservative former head of the Club for Growth, said the left is to blame for the country's economic problems and national debt.
"The fact is the policies that got us into this mess were the policies of a big government, liberal policies, the failed monetary policy, encouraging lending to people who couldn’t pay loans back," Toomey said. "It was the left that got us into this mess; that’s the fact. And we never had a compelling narrative to explain that, and that’s why we lost a lot of ground."
Democrats regularly point out that the national debt rose significantly during George W. Bush's presidency and that the economic collapse occurred on Bush's watch. Even some conservatives acknowledge the economic shortcomings of the Bush administration.
Toomey seems to be suggesting that liberal economic policies were at the root of the problem, even as a Republican president presided over the collapse.
Former congressman Allen West (R-Fla.), who lost his seat in November's election but remains an icon in the conservative movement, said people like him scare liberals more than anything.
"I’m speaking from experience when I tell you that there is nothing on this green earth that a liberal progressive fears more than a black American who wants a better life and a smaller government," West said.
West's speech was full of one-liners like this that stirred the early-morning crowd, including in his plea for a strong national defense.
"I’m a conservative because I understand that real peace comes from the Marine Corps, not the Peace Corps," said the former Army lieutenant colonel.
West recently launched a political action committee devoted to opposing President Obama.
Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli promised to remain a "straight-shooter" throughout his 2013 campaign.
Cuccinelli, the first speaker of the three-day event, has a reputation as an uncompromising conservative. He was the first attorney general to sue to have President Obama's health care bill overturned.
He faces former DNC chairman Terry McAuliffe in a race in which many are questioning whether either man can appeal to the political middle.
"The one thing that even my staunchest opponents will admit is that I'm a straight shooter, and I'm a man of my word," Cuccinelli said. "And when this race is over, they'll still say that."
Cuccinelli noted that he has been out front in battling not just Obama's health care law, but also the Environmental Protection Agency -- which he called the Employment Prevention Agency.
"I've proceeded to do the unusual and actually pursue it," Cuccinelli said.
For more on Cuccinelli's address, check out Ben Pershing's recap over at the Virginia Politics page.
The conference kicks off at 9 a.m. Meantime, here are five things to keep an eye on as the conference begins.