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Off to the races: Romney's re-emergence

Yesterday at CPAC, the GOP identity crisis was on full display, and it likely will be again today. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul were the highlights, speaking back to back. Rubio said the Republican Party doesn’t need new ideas. But he didn’t talk about immigration reform, something he is championing in the Senate and shift to the left for the party. Paul criticized the GOP as “stale and moss covered,” but only received tepid applause for his foreign-policy views.

Today’s lineup features Mitt Romney, Wayne LaPierre, Rick Santorum, Bobby Jindal, Paul Ryan, and even Donald Trump.

Romney speaks at 1 pm ET. How he’s received will be the thing to watch. Since his loss in 2012, the right has roundly criticized Romney and his campaign not understanding demographics better but also for not standing more firmly for conservative principles. CPAC is where Romney announced his dropout of the 2008 presidential race and where last year, he called himself a “severely” conservative governor, despite staking out a moderate image in Massachusetts. Romney has finished first or second in every CPAC straw poll over the last six years. Romney’s emergence is one some are questioning.

“What can he offer them?” Reagan biographer Craig Shirley told NBC’s Michael O’Brien. “Based on his interview I saw last weekend, not much. When he ran, he didn’t seem to understand much of this country.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, one of Romney’s rivals for the 2012 nomination took a not-so-subtle swipe at Romney (and John McCain), as NBC’s Kasie Hunt reported: "The popular media narrative is that this country has shifted away from conservative ideas, as evidence by the last two presidential elections. That’s what they think, that’s what they say. That might be true if Republicans had actually nominated conservative candidates in 2008 and 2012."

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre speaks at 10:45 am ET, a day after a Senate committee passed an assault-weapons ban along party lines.

Santorum is set to hit at noon ET, Jindal at 2:25 pm ET, Ryan in the morning at 9:30 preceded by Trump at 8:45. Others of note: Mitch McConnell 9 am ET, Kelly Ayotte 9:15 am ET, Eric Cantor 3:35 pm ET. There will also be a panel on the November 2012 autopsy at 9:45 am ET.

USA Today: “Paul and Marco Rubio, Republican senators being measured as 2016 presidential possibilities, gave campaign-style speeches at the annual conservative gathering: soaring rhetoric and a quick rundown of policy positions. Paul attacked wasteful government spending, advocated a flat tax and suggested eliminating the Department of Education. … In an implicit rebuke to former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney's dismissal of 47% of the electorate, Rubio said the country doesn't have ‘too many people who want too much from government.' At a gathering with a heavy focus on improving Republican appeal to Hispanic voters, Rubio avoided the topic of immigration. Instead, he touched on energy policy, school choice and economic rivalry with China, and he defended social conservatism.”

Yahoo: “As part of an ambitious plan to make the Republican Party more competitive in future elections, the Republican National Committee is working with outside groups to build a platform that will allow the party to share its massive warehouse of voter data with GOP vendors, campaigns and committees.”

MARYLAND: The AP reports that Maryland is on track to end its state death penalty. “It's been eight years since Maryland executed a convicted killer, but that could be the last time if the General Assembly, as expected, gives final passage this week to a bill to abolish capital punishment.Gov. Martin O'Malley, a Democrat, has been pushing for the change since his first year in office. Now the Democratic-controlled legislature seems poised to make Maryland the 18th state in the nation to do away with the death penalty. A repeal bill has already been approved by the state Senate and it was expected to win final passage from the House of Delegates on Friday.”

MASSACHUSETTS: The SEIU endorsed Ed Markey.

MISSISSIPPI: National Journal tells the story of a black, gay mayoral candidate who was killed. “[B]ecause this is Clarksdale, a haunted town with an unclean past, and because McMillian was black, gay, running for office, and cut down in his prime, the speculation [of his death] has run wild and fierce. The story people tell often says more about the teller than the subject.”