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CPAC to feature potential presidential candidates, GOP internal battle, and no Christie

Just months after their losses in the 2012 election, Republicans and conservatives are setting a vibrant -- and crowded -- stage at next month’s closely watched political cattle call.

The three-day gathering of the Conservative Political Action Committee, which begins March 14th just outside Washington, is expected to feature more than two dozen high-profile Republicans, including former Gov. Mitt Romney.

At least eight potential presidential contenders will be speaking at CPAC: Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. 

There will also be five former presidential candidates attending: Romney, Perry, Santorum, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich of Georgia, and former Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin of Alaska.

It will be Romney’s first public speech since his loss last November. He said in a statement that he looks “forward to saying thank you to the many friends and supporters who were instrumental in helping” his campaign.

One potential 2016 hopeful who won't be there, however -- New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Despite being the keynote speaker at the Republican National Convention and having a sky-high approval rating in the Garden State, CPAC officials told First Read Christie was not invited.

Christie rankled some on the right with his public support for President Obama's handling of Hurricane Sandy in the weeks leading up to the 2012 election.

The 37 featured speakers include five former or current congressmen, nine senators and six governors representing 13 states.

Karl Rove, however, might want to stay away. There are more than 30 panels scheduled for the three-day period, including one titled, “Should We Shoot all the Consultants Now?”

If participants are looking to further vent their 2012 frustration, they can attend “Fight Club 2013: A Liberal & A Conservative Duke it Out” or “Stop THIS: Threats, Harassment, Intimidation, Slander, Bullying from the Obama Administration.”

The NRA is also expected to have a large presence at CPAC. Both Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre and President David Keene are confirmed to speak at the event, and there will be an NRA University Saturday to educate participants about the organization, the Second Amendment, and the gun control debate. Keene served from 1984 to 2011 as Chairman of the American Conservative Union, the group that organizes CPAC.

The conference traditionally ends with a straw poll to pick an early favorite for the Republican presidential nomination. Romney picked up the title last year, and Rep. Ron Paul won it in 2011 and 2010. After all, there are only 1351 days until the next presidential election.