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36th Annual Conservative Political Action Conference, February 26-28, 2009
February 26-28, 2009--American Conservative Union chairman David Keene kicks off the 36th annual Conservative Political Action Conference.  During the course of the conference speakers touched on topics ranging from life to national security to culture to various ways to grow the conservative movement, but the economic crisis and the response of the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress drew particular attention.  Speaker after speaker lambasted bailouts, the stimulus package, the proposed budget, and the omnibus spending bill, saying freedom is at risk of giving way to European-style socialism.  As Democrats have control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, one might have expected considerable hand-wringing.  Instead, this gathering of conservatives appeared united and optimistic.  Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) described CPAC 2009 as "the beginning of the comeback."  Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said "the conservative movement is regrouping, reorganizing and renewing itself."  "We can begin the work of picking ourself up and dusting ourself off right here at CPAC," Cornyn said.  CPAC started in 1973 drawing about 200 people.  CPAC 2009 was the largest ever, claiming about 8,500 people registered, including many students. 

Over a hundred organizations ranging from the 2012 Draft Sarah Palin Committee to Youth for Western Civilization had booths in the exhibit hall, where there was also a radio row and a bloggers area.  Campaign for Liberty (Honorary Chairman Ron Paul) and Young Americans for Liberty (the continuation of Students for Ron Paul) had perhaps the most active presence; young activists handed out literature at many points.  The National Rifle Association also scored well in visibility with its "Varmint Town" game, which allowed attendees to shoot at varmints projected onto a screen.  Joe the Plumber, signing copies of his book Fighting for the American Dream, was a popular figure.
Towards the end of the conference, results of the straw poll were released.  Of 1,757 registrants responding, over half of whom were students (52%), 80% strongly disapproved and 15% somewhat disapproved of the job that Barack Obama is doing as president, while 17% strongly approved and 53% somewhat approved of the job Republicans are doing in Congress.  Looking towards the 2012 presidential campaign, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney fared best with 20%:
Former Gov. Mitt Romney
Gov. Bobby Jindal
Rep. Ron Paul
Gov. Sarah Palin
Former Speaker Newt Gingrich
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee
Gov. Mark Sanford
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani
Gov. Tim Pawlenty
Gov. Charlie Crist
Those who stayed to the very end of the conference heard radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh speak. 
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Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN)
Former Gov. Mike Huckabee (R-AR)

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX)
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)
House Republican Leader John Boehner (R-OH)
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
Rep. Ron Paul (R-TX)
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA)

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN)

Exhibit Hall
Campaign for Liberty
2012 Draft Sarah Committee
Joe the Plumber

Copyright © 2009  Eric M. Appleman/Democracy in Action