WASHINGTON, DC – Though conservative luminaries attending the annual CPAC Conference this past weekend had hoped the conference would establish a GOP frontrunner once and for all, the race for the 2012 presidential nomination has only become more competitive by the conference’s close.
Underscoring the closeness of the race, Rick Santorum, coming off of big upsets in the Colorado, Missouri, and Minnesota GOP contests, implied that his main rival Mitt Romney bought his seven-point victory over him at the CPAC straw poll.
Santorum compared Romney’s presence at the CPAC straw polls to that of Ron Paul, known to bus supporters to CPAC in order to ensure his victory, on CNN’s “State of the Union”. “The Romney campaign, how many tickets they’ve bought, we’ve heard all sorts of things,” Santorum said to host Candy Crowley.
“We don’t think it’s a good use of our resources,” Santorum said, when asked to confirm his allegation. “Governor Romney obviously may have a different idea.”
In response, the Romney campaign stated that “Rick Santorum has a history of making statements that aren’t grounded in the truth,”
Santorum’s statements only served to highlight the escalating competitiveness of the presidential primary, given that his campaign too had an overwhelming presence at the conference, long seen as a barometer of current conservative opinion. At an event filled with colorful public figures, costumed activists, and Occupy Movement break-ins, hundreds of campaign staffers from the Romney, Gingrich and Santorum camps handed out stickers and posters to lines of activists and politicos at the entrance to the main halls.
All three candidates spoke to crowds packed with their own supporters on Day Two. Romney, attempting to prove his conservative credentials, touted his business background and conservative actions as governor of Massachusetts. “I’m a businessman,” he stated. “I served in government but I didn’t inhale.”
Santorum, piggybacking off the recent Susan G. Komen/Planned Parenthood funding dustup, put social issues at the forefront of his campaign.
“This is not about contraception,” he said during his address. “This is about economic liberty, it’s about freedom of religion, it’s about government control of your lives and it’s got to stop.”
Trailing farthest behind was Newt Gingrich, whose speech was as scattershot as his campaign of late; a grab bag of policies that he would repeal as President that contained no unifying theme.
However, no one single candidate dominated the discourse over the three-day long event in Washington. Instead, as panelists, speakers, and the activists themselves all repeated, the agenda was to focus on a victory against President Barack Obama, and, by extension, progressive government.
“The left is not made up of friends and allies,” proclaimed Grover Norquist, president of the American Conservative Union, which hosts CPAC, during his headlining speech. “It is made up of competing parasites.”
The best summation of the weekend, however, came in the form of Sarah Palin’s appearance as the closing speaker. Speaking to a completely packed auditorium, with thousands of people waiting up to five hours to claim seats, Palin demurred from making a hard endorsement—valuable to any of the candidates still in the race. But she spent her time slinging barbs of the Obama administration and the liberal base, from her characterization of “winning the future” as “WTF”, to her flippant dismissal of the Occupiers who attempted to interrupt her speech.
“See, you just won,” she smiled, as the Occupiers were escorted out amidst chants of “USA!” “You see how easy that is?”