DENVER – For the Western Conservative Summit’s third helping, founder John Andrews has a prediction – it’s gonna be big.
The former Colorado Senate President and Director of the Centennial Institute moved up the date for this year’s summit, pushing it just ahead of the Fourth of July holiday, little more than four months ahead of the November 2012 election.
And while Andrews expects this year’s offering to be the largest gathering so far, the Summit’s history demonstrates a growth level correlating to the state’s focus in each election cycle as a critical battleground state.
“The Summit started in the great right-turn year of 2010 as a rally in the Rockies to not only explore current politics and policy, but also dig deeper and revive America’s founding principles for a new time,” said Andrews.
The decision to hold an event in the typical summer political doldrums – after the Lincoln Day dinner circuit winds down but before the campaigns typically shift into high gear as they head into the fall has, so far, proved prescient.
“It struck a spark,” Andrews said, tapping into sentiments of resurgent Republican efforts following a disastrous string of electoral defeats, and the then-nascent Tea Party movement.
Sure to be on everyone’s minds this year are a pair of landmark Supreme Court cases in the news this week. Yesterday’s mixed results on the state’s controversial SB1070 immigration bill will undoubtedly be at the center of Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s appearance, and Thursday’s eagerly awaited release of the ObamaCare decision will likely be the talk of the Summit, no matter the outcome.
Other big name draws this weekend include TV personality and media entrepreneur Glenn Beck, who launched the website theblaze.com, and controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders. An impromptu panel discussing the recent election in Egypt has also quickly been shoehorned into an otherwise packed conference schedule.
Past attendees have spanned the center-right ideological spectrum and forced two venue moves, as the event grew larger.
“We hoped for 300 and 700 came. Last year we had 1000 from 30 states, presidential candidates showed up, and our Denver straw poll made national news,” said Andrews.
“This year we expect 1400, and it’s so timely – just ahead of July 4 and about 120 days before Americans start voting.”
Last year’s inaugural Denver straw poll, launched just ahead of the more well-known Iowa Straw Poll held every four years, garnered national attention, with Georgia businessman Herman Cain wowing the crowds and capturing nearly half of the vote in the late July survey.
Cain’s success was only a preview of a determined run that lasted through the early fall of 2011, before the candidate was ultimately forced out of the race following allegations of inappropriate behavior.
But the 2011 Summit also featured two of the biggest names in the GOP primary, Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.
While Perry’s performance was panned by some in attendance in a preview of doubts that would emerge over lackluster debate appearances, Santorum’s stronger showing presaged his unanticipated run into 2012, a run which included capturing the Colorado GOP caucus in February, over the assumed frontrunner, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
And while the November election’s matchup between Romney and Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama has all but been settled officially, Andrews notes that the path to the White House in 2012 will still wind its way through Colorado, whose precious nine electoral votes not only hang in the balance, but ultimately could prove decisive for either candidate’s chances.
“Romney and Obama will both need Colorado in order to win. Some say we’ll be this year’s Florida. I hope not, but if so, the Western Conservative Summit will have done its part to fire up a lot of friends of freedom for this battle,” said Andrews.