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GOP watch: All about CPAC

Politico: "More than 11,000 conservative activists will gather Thursday in Washington to weigh in on battles over the Republican party’s presidential nomination and the values of the conservative movement itself. For a movement that’s at a moment of ascendancy, however, it won’t always be pretty. The 38th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference offers a glimpse at the ferment roiling a vibrant conservative movement that’s at war with itself over the place of social issues – particularly gay rights – in its portfolio, and the tension between principle and inclusion. There’s also a presidential candidate to pick for 2012, and no less than eight potential contenders will show up to audition, in what has emerged as the first big event of the cycle (even though it will be minus Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee)."

And it offers five things to watch: the 2012 presidential field, the straw poll, "schism city," the tea party takeover, and Obama's role.

The Washington Post: "A wide field of Republican potential presidential hopefuls will descend on Washington on Thursday for the conservative movement's biggest annual party, where they will navigate the tussle for attention between social conservatives and newly empowered tea party activists. A year out from the Iowa caucuses, the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference is widely viewed, as it is every four years, as a forum for presidential message-testing. This year, following the growth of the tea party movement and the huge gains Republicans made last year by focusing on economic issues, would-be candidates almost certainly will try to prove their credentials as fiscal conservatives who are ready to cut government and taxes, reduce the deficit and ease the burden of regulations on free enterprise."

The L.A. Times: "A dozen potential GOP presidential candidates will address the nation's largest annual conservative gathering this week, opening a window into the likely influence of the 'tea party' in choosing President Obama's 2012 opponent."

The Hill: "One of the biggest annual conservative gatherings opens in Washington on Thursday amid lingering controversy over the participation of a gay-rights group and hopes of momentum for close to a dozen possible White House candidates."

Sarah Palin yesterday hit back at Rick Santorum (R-PA) for his shot at her for not showing up to CPAC. “I will not call him the knuckle-dragging Neanderthal,” Palin told FOX. “I'll let his wife call him that instead.”

A controversy over the invitation of a conservative gay-rights group sets the backdrop at CPAC, but the group is brushing aside the controversy. "The truth is that it's five boycotters and 10,000 people who are attending the conference, so we're celebrating the 10,000 people and not the five who are boycotting," GOProud Board Chairman Chris Barron told RealClearPolitics. "It would be a little like us announcing we were boycotting the DNC, even though we never participating in it. Most of the organizations speaking out weren't CPAC sponsors last year, so who the hell cares if they're boycotting, quite frankly?"

James C. Miller and Penny Nance, on the other hand, pen a Politico op-ed suggesting that the inclusion of GOProud hurts the conservative movement. "The attack on social conservatives centers on their honorable defense of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Social conservatives rightly believe that marriage and family are two of the foundational cornerstones of American society — on which we as Americans have built a country that is the envy of the world."